Boards keep up with early voters' ID flaws

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Voters should take care to fill in the oval completely on their absentee ballots and not put other markings on it.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Local boards of elections dealing with a deluge of absentee ballots say they are quickly contacting voters whose identifying information on absentee ballot envelopes has issues that could keep their ballot from being counted.

“This process is going well," said Eric Corbin, deputy director at the Butler County board. “The redesign of the identification envelopes is making the process easier because many voters are filling out the contact information.”

Currently boards have one day to notify voters once the problem ballot is received, but starting on Saturday they must notify voters the day the ballot arrives, according to Ohio’s rules.

Election Day is Tuesday.

Amber Lopez, the Deputy Director of the Clark County Board of Elections, empties the ballot box at the drop off at the Clark County Board of Elections Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Amber Lopez, the Deputy Director of the Clark County Board of Elections, empties the ballot box at the drop off at the Clark County Board of Elections Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Of eight local counties reached by the newspaper, only Greene County said they were not contacting voters within one day of the ballot physically arriving at the board office.

“While we are able to reach out to those voters within 24 hours of receiving ballots, we are not formally receiving ballots on the date they are mailed back or dropped off,” said Llyn McCoy, director of the Greene County Board. “As of Monday we had 51 absentee ballots that need cured. We have reached out to those voters by phone, email and letter."

“We have added additional staff as space has come open this week and weekend,” she said.

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Voter information required on the ballot identifying envelope includes first and last name, home address, birth date, driver license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, the date the ballot was completed and signature.

Voters who fail to put all the required information on the ballot’s inside envelope or whose signature appears to not match the one on their voter registration may correct the problems by submitting an 11-S form that their county board mails them. If deficiencies are not corrected, the ballot isn’t counted unless the only missing information is a birth date.

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Ohio law requires that voters be contacted by mail if there is a problem, but for the first time this year Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose required boards to contact the voter by phone or email if the voter provided that contact information.

The absentee ballot inner envelope contains identifying information about the voter that must be properly completed to make sure the vote is counted.
The absentee ballot inner envelope contains identifying information about the voter that must be properly completed to make sure the vote is counted.

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

"The electronic communication allows issues like mismatching signatures or other issues to be swiftly addressed by voters,” said Maggie Sheehan, press secretary for LaRose.

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Once the identifying information is verified the ballot is removed from the envelope and separated from its identifying stub it is scanned and counted. Any mistakes on the ballot itself, such as failing to properly mark the ovals, cannot be corrected by the voter.

Boards also contact voters about problems with identifying information on provisional ballots, which are cast when voters lack required identification or questions exist about their registration.

Voters have seven days after the election to correct deficiencies on absentee or provisional ballots and boards remain open to the public each day through Nov. 10.

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Voting rights advocates say it is important that voters be given a chance to correct errors and omissions or resolve signature questions.

“We can assume they are getting a fair number of ballots with these problems and I’m concerned about their ability to contact people quickly so they have an opportunity to fix it," said Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equalityand part of the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition.

The ACLU of Ohio is calling for legislative changes in the future.

“We hope to achieve reform of a process that is currently very flawed because it mistakenly tags way too many valid signatures, throwing out way too many applications and ballots, which in turn requires voters to take extra steps — which take extra time — and all too often result in their not being able to vote," said Freda L. Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio.

Jim Gau places his ballot in the drop box as his dog, Gunner, sticks his head out of the window at the Butler County Board of Elections Thursday, October 22, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Jim Gau places his ballot in the drop box as his dog, Gunner, sticks his head out of the window at the Butler County Board of Elections Thursday, October 22, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

In the 2016 General Election 10,439 absentee ballots were rejected out of nearly 1.9 million cast, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Of those rejected, 332 were because of mismatched signatures. During this year’s primary election 217 ballots were rejected for that reason. Out of the 1.83 million ballots cast in the primary, which was mostly by mail due to the pandemic, there were 21,154 ballots rejected.

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Voters are also contacted about problems with their absentee ballot request forms. Saturday is the deadline to request a ballot. Officials say that is likely too late to get it in time, so voters should vote in person early or on Election Day.

Voters also are being urged to not rely on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver ballots in time at this stage and instead drop off the ballot at their county board of elections office.

Ballots can be hand delivered to the county board of elections before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. Any ballots sent through the mail must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by the board by Nov. 13.

Boards on track with notifications

Officials at the Butler, Champaign, Clark, Miami, Montgomery, Preble and Warren county boards all said they have been able to meet state deadlines for notifying voters of problems.

“We are processing same day and have been for several weeks," said Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

As of Thursday the county had about 100 outstanding deficient identification envelopes out of 85,128 absentee ballots cast in Montgomery County, he said.

“The entire process in Montgomery County could not be going better," Harsman said. "We received enough resources and support to provide exceptional service and timing with all aspects of this election.”

Montgomery County Board of Elections employee processes the S-11 forms sent to voters whose absentee ballot identifying envelopes had missing or wrong information so they have a chance to correct it.
Montgomery County Board of Elections employee processes the S-11 forms sent to voters whose absentee ballot identifying envelopes had missing or wrong information so they have a chance to correct it.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Miami County Director Ian Ridgeway said no backlog exists and "in the next week, we will probably be reaching back out to voters that have not responded to ensure they received our message.”

“The process is going well,” said Clark County Board Director Jason Baker.

Champaign County Board Director Meredith Bodey said the board had a single identifying envelope lacking a signature, and it was corrected by the voter. She said 21 absentee applications are still awaiting a response from the voter. “I’m glad we are a ‘small’ county,” she said.

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Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said he’s heard that the state’s 88 county boards are managing voter notifications.

“I have been assured that there will be no issues in getting these ballots processed in time for the unofficial canvass," Ockerman said. "Some counties are projecting a shortage of funds. Costs are up across the board, including the need for additional temporary staff to assist with numerous tasks leading up to and after Election Day. "

Track your ballot at VoteOhio.gov

Each county board of elections must be open to the public after Election Day during these hours so voters to fix a deficiency on an absentee or provisional ballot.

  • Nov. 4 - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 5 - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 6 - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 7 - 8 a.m. to noon
  • Nov. 8 - 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 9 - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 10 - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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