Ohio lawmakers created the new vote-by-mail timeline after in-person voting on Election Day was canceled over coronavirus concerns but voter rights advocates fear the deadline of April 28 still does not give people enough time to cast a ballot.
Lawmakers unanimously passed a large legislative package with bipartisan support which, among many other things, extended absentee voting until April 28.
It adds legal protection for a voting extension after Gov. Mike DeWine's administration closed polling locations on the scheduled March 17 primary.
But it stops short of the new June 2 primary date suggested by Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) says the earlier date appeared to be a better choice to lawmakers.
"I think there were a significant number of members from the legislature in both chambers who felt that we should get the election done sooner rather than later," says Obhof.
Wanted to give everyone an idea of what to expect in their mailbox starting next week.
We’ll continue doing everything we can to help Ohioans have their voice heard in this primary election. Check out https://t.co/TI8p9denz4 today. pic.twitter.com/MtFDdqOaTs— Frank LaRose (@FrankLaRose) April 1, 2020
A voter has three ways to request an absentee ballot:
- Call the local board of elections and have officials mail an application.
- Download an application from the web, print it, and mail it in
- Mail a handwritten absentee ballot request by providing a specific list of information
According to the Secretary of State's office, the handwritten absentee ballot application must include the following:
1) List Information
- Full Name
- Date of Birth
- Full registration address, including county
- Address where ballot should be mailed, if different from your registration address
One of the following:
- Ohio driver's license number
- Last four digits of Social Security Number, or
- A copy of an acceptable form of ID
- Phone Number (optional, but suggested)
- Email address (optional, but suggested)
2) Write: "I'm a qualified elector and I'm requesting an absentee ballot for the 3/17/2020 Ohio Primary"
3) Specify which ballot:
- Or, Issues Only
4) Sign and Date
No printer? No problem! You can make your own form to request a vote-by-mail ballot!
Just write down all the information bellow on any piece of paper and mail it in to your county board of elections! Get the address here: https://t.co/pyHzRU5UGc pic.twitter.com/WUtJRf0Vnu— Frank LaRose (@FrankLaRose) March 30, 2020
That's just to request a ballot, then boards of elections need to process the applications and send a ballot to voters around Ohio.
At that point a voter can fill out their absentee ballot and either mail it back with a postmark date of April 27 or drop it off at their local board of elections on April 28.
"Unfortunately this proposed date of April 28 is just simply unacceptable," says Mike Brickner, state director of All Voting Is Local.
Voter rights advocates say this process is cumbersome and requires too much interaction with the postal service which can take time.
"It would mean either all voters won't receive an absentee ballot application or that election officials and voters would not have enough time to make the system really work," Brickner says.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose acknowledges the concerns over the new timeframe. In fact, he was also calling on the legislature to create a bigger voting window before lawmakers settled on the April 28 date. He says he'll carry out the absentee ballot system and that he's trying to raise as much awareness about the time crunch as possible. That includes trying to provide absentee applications at grocery stores and food banks.
"Trying to leave no stone unturned because we want to make sure that when this election concludes on April 28 according to the bill that the legislature passed that every Ohioan had a chance to let them make their voice heard," says LaRose.
He also has a word of advice for anyone who still wants to cast a ballot.
"Do not delay. Send in your absentee ballot requests as soon as possible. If you've already sent one in please give the board of elections as much patience as possible remember they're dealing with the same things that the rest of us are dealing with," LaRose says.
LaRose adds that several boards of elections are closed with people working from home.
House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) defended the legislature's absentee ballot process and says those who want to vote will be ready and willing to do so.
"The folks that want to vote, I think they're probably anxious to vote. They were ready to go on Election Day and cast their ballots. And so, when it comes in, I think those people that chose to vote are waiting anxiously and they'll probably cast those ballots and they'll do it in a timely fashion," says Householder.
He also mentions the Ohio Democratic Party called for an earlier date so they could finalize the results and seat presidential delegates for their national convention in time.
The ACLU of Ohio has filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing the process doesn't give voters enough time to cast their ballot and disenfranchised those who have not yet registered to vote. The suit is asking the court to set a new primary date, allow voter registration to open back up, and to send an absentee ballot to every registered voter who hasn't cast a ballot yet.