The outbreak of COVID-19 led to the postponement of Election Day, which was originally scheduled for March 17 and had been pushed back to June 2. Following the passage of House Bill 197 by the Ohio General Assembly Wednesday, there will be no in-person voting as lawmakers announced all voting — for the most part — will now take place through absentee ballots over the next month.
The bill, which was signed today by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, does include language stating exceptions will be made for individuals with disabilities or who are unable to receive mail like those experiencing homelessness. These individuals will be allowed to vote in person at their local board of elections (BOE) office on Tuesday, April 28, until 7:30 p.m.
All registered voters who wish to cast an absentee ballot will first need to print a request form or contact their local board of elections to request a form stating they would like an absentee ballot. Upon mailing that form back to the BOE, the board will then send an absentee ballot to the voter.
Each voter must receive their ballot, cast their vote, and return the ballot in a postage-paid envelope postmarked by Monday, April 27. In addition, the bill states, “The board shall place a secure receptacle outside the office of the board for the return of ballots … ballots received after 7:30 p.m. on April 28, 2020, shall not be counted.”
There will be no extension to the voter registration cutoff date, which was in February.
Those who already cast their vote via an absentee ballot ahead of the March 17 Election Day do not need to recast their vote.
“I think it’s a good solution,” Delaware County BOE board member Ed Helvey said of the all-absentee system. “A lot of us have been discussing this, and our big concern about having wide open in-person voting at some point in the future is we don’t know what the situation is going to be then. After a while, you keep canceling and canceling and then you start losing the interest of the people.”
Helvey said that with all the important ballot issues still awaiting resolution, “this needed to be wrapped up.”
“I think the legislature felt the pressure and had the desire to have this wrapped up,” he added. “The secretary of state probably felt a little lonely (Wednesday) night because nobody carried his banner of a June 2 date. That (date) was just way too far out there.”
Helvey said he believes the Delaware County BOE is fully capable of handling the new decree for an all-mail election because it was “reading the handwriting on the wall” in advance of the decision. Helvey said he gives full credit to BOE Director Karla Herron, who he said has already preordered the paper stock needed to print the ballots.
Fellow board member Steve Cuckler said of the BOE, “I would say Delaware County Board of Elections is one of the best-run board of election offices in the state, and we are prepared to adapt, overcome, and adhere to whatever the state tells us to do or not do.”
Cuckler echoed Helvey’s sentiment on the BOE’s readiness, saying the anticipation of the board and the steps it has already taken ahead of the state legislature will allow it to manage just fine.
“We are prepared and had anticipated that after the postponement of Election Day, regardless of what plan was being proposed, it consisted of having a longer mail-in absentee period,” Cuckler said.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose lamented the state legislature’s decision to move to absentee voting.
LaRose said, “Today (Wednesday) my friends in the legislature did the right thing by extending deadlines and postponing requirements on everything from taxes to school testing, so it’s disappointing that they’ve instead chosen to significantly reduce the time provided for Ohio to bring this primary to a close.
“The proposal that Gov. DeWine, Lt. Gov. Husted and I laid out was preferable, and unlike the plan enacted today (Wednesday), our proposal would have concluded the election by putting a ballot request directly in the hands of every voter along with a postage-paid return envelope. Though I advocated for a different plan, the legislature has spoken, and I will uphold my oath of office by doing everything in my power over the next 34 days to ensure that every Ohio voter has the opportunity to safely make their voice heard.”
State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, told The Gazette his reason for arguing an earlier voting deadline had to do with all the school districts with levies on the ballot and what those districts may be faced with should their levies fail.
Schools will have the option to resubmit their issues for the special election on Aug. 4. However, the deadline to submit those issues for the special election is May 6.
“I think this was important to do and get done by April 28, so that’s what we did and that’s what I supported,” Brenner said.
Discussing what impact the decision to close schools might have on the fate of levies, and the necessity for schools to find out the results of their levies as soon as possible, Brenner said, “Given what has happened, we don’t know (the impact). (Schools) may need to go on with a special election, especially if (quarantine orders) are lifted after voting is already done but people have voted no because they don’t know the certainty of the future.”
Both Helvey and Brenner also pointed out the lack of poll workers that would be available for any in-person election, making that route highly difficult to even facilitate.
To request the application for an absentee ballot, visit www.ohiosos.gov/elections/voters/absentee-ballot or call the Delaware County BOE at 740-833-2080.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.