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Government & Politics
Election Protection is WKSU’s community information initiative focused on access, policy and community resources around voting this November.

Carefully Fill Out Your Absentee Ballot Request, Or Risk Having It Rejected

Don Woodward
Kelly Woodward
Stark Country resident Don Woodward mails in his new absentee ballot application ahead of the election in November.

By phone, email or mail, some Ohio voters are finding out that they have more work to do before they can vote by mail-in absentee ballot. WKSU’s Kelly Woodward reports on correspondence found in her own family’s mailbox.

Stark County resident Don Woodward guessed he was mistakenly signed up for poll worker training when he got an envelope from the county’s board of elections last week. Instead, he found out that he had made a mistake on his absentee ballot application.

Don Woodward's notification of an error on his absentee ballot application
Kelly Woodward
Don Woodward's notification of an error on his absentee ballot application

“It’s missing my birth date, from the form? On your application written request. Ok my birth date’s missing. What’s the issue here? I got to redo the whole thing!” he said.

And he’s not alone.

Aaron Ockerman, director of the Ohio Elections Officials Association, said my husband’s mistake is one of the most common reasons that absentee ballot applications are rejected. He completed an application that was mailed to him from either the secretary of state or another third party group, with his name and address already listed.

“It was already printed out. Yeah, so they forgot to put it on there,” Don Woodward said.

Actually it’s up to the voter to fill in the birth date. Overlooking a field is easy to do, even more so for many Ohio voters who received an absentee ballot application from a national group called the Center for Voter Information, according to Ockerman.

“And the way they formatted it was not ideal. And so it put the date of birth in a really awkward position, and a ton of people did not fill out the date of birth. In Cuyahoga County, their rejection rate was almost 33 percent. And it was almost all from that organization, and it was almost all date of birth," he said.

The nonprofit’s forms with missing birth dates were also among a large number of the 6.5 percent of applications rejected at the Stark County Board of Elections.

In a statement, the Center for Voter Information said that it sent text messages reminding voters to fill in their birth dates, after hearing that some were leaving it blank. The group is also sending out a new round of mailings, aiming to increase voter turnout, but this time it is using the Ohio secretary of state’s form, which has been tested for ease of use.

No matter what the precautions, mistakes are bound to happen and that is one reason Stark County Board of Elections Administrative Assistant Travis Secrest is urging people wanting to vote by mail-in ballot not to procrastinate. If mistakes do occur, the voter is contacted. Then a new application must be submitted for the board of elections to approve and mail the voter a ballot.

“The last day for us to process an absentee application is Oct. 31 and that’s far too close to Election Day for the post office to turn the ballot around in time to get to the voter,” he said.

Secrest said Stark County has 60,000 voter applications so far, and we still have five more weeks to go. By comparison, the county’s total number of absentee ballots in the 2016 election numbered just 39,000. Despite the heavy demand for absentee ballots across the state during the pandemic, Ockerman said elections boards are doing a good job keeping up. He is encouraged by the quick response to my husband’s and other flawed applications.

Track My Ballet Example.PNG
Kelly Woodward

“Well the good news is that they caught it, and they got to him. And he did it early, which is super important,” he said. Absentee ballots will be mailed on the same day that early in-person voting begins in Ohio, Oct. 6.

To check the status of your absentee application, you can visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s website. If you are still planning to vote absentee and have not applied yet, election officials urge you to do it soon and to make sure you carefully fill out all the spaces so that you, like my husband, aren’t left asking, “How did I miss that?”

Corrected: September 29, 2020 at 10:10 PM EDT
The Center for Voter Information did not design its own absentee ballot application, but rather modified an old application form from the Ohio Secretary of State by adding highlights and filling in some fields in a mass mailing to Ohio voters. Many applications rejected at Boards of Election were from the CVI, where voters skipped the birth date field. The Ohio Secretary of State updated its form in July 2020 and had it tested for ease of use. The CVI mailed its applications in August. The group is planning another mailing where it will use the current form from the Secretary of State.