Former elections official: Ohio called ‘well-positioned’ to transition to an all-mail-in ballot state

The Ohio House unanimously approved a novel coronavirus bill package on Wednesday that includes formally extending absentee voting and nixing in-person voting this election cycle.

And one former Ohio elections official believes the Buckeye State is set up to be the country’s fourth all-vote-by-mail state.

The in-person March 17 presidential primary election was postponed to June 2, but in a March 21 letter, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose urged legislators to support a mail-in-only election for the primary. Ohio House members approved the legislation that outlines other relief efforts related to the outbreak COVID-19.

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The bill unanimously cleared the Ohio Senate earlier on Wednesday, and the 2020 presidential primary will be an all-absentee election. Absentee voting is now extended through April 28, and no in-person voting will be conducted, according to the bill.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 1,700 absentee ballot request forms have been received by the Butler County Board of Elections since March 17, and that could exceed 2,000 by today. Warren County reported 1,476 ballot requests as of Wednesday.

Butler County Republican Party Executive Chair Todd Hall supported LaRose’s push to “conduct this election with proper safeguards in place.”

“I believe everyone wants to complete this primary process as soon as possible. Perhaps a mail-in idea could work with proper communication and instruction to voters,” Hall said. “I believe it is prudent to wait and see what plan Secretary LaRose introduces, and go from there.”

Butler County Democratic Party Executive Chair Brian Hester said he never did support extending the primary to June 2, though LaRose said in his letter that “no date before June 2 is logistically possible.”

“Voters need certainty on how and when to vote,” said Hester, who didn’t see in-person voting as feasible in the foreseeable future. He agrees with ending the primary at the end of April.

Ohio could follow models implemented by Oregon, Washington State and Colorado, said Jocelyn Bucaro, a former Butler County elections official and former Ohio Association of Elections Officials president. She said Ohio is “well-positioned” to transition to a mail-in ballot state, especially since it has offered the no-excuse absentee voting — which includes in-person and vote-by-mail early voting — since 2006.

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“Voting at home is proven to increase voter participation and reduce election costs,” said Bucaro, Denver Elections Division’s Director of Elections.

Colorado has been a vote-by-mail state since 2013, though there are vote centers established, but she said only a small percentage of voters use the centers in elections. In general elections, 93 percent of Denver County, Colorado voters return a mail-in ballot, and 98 percent cast mail-in ballots in primaries and other elections, she said.

Early voting has been increasing since it was implemented 14 years ago.

Bucaro also said Denver County’s elections costs have decreased in each of the past three presidential elections as voter turnout has increased.

The Ohio Secretary of State’s office wouldn’t comment if this primary could be testing ground for an all-vote-by-mail election model.

“Our focus right now is on completing the primary,” said spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan.

For Ohio’s 2020 presidential primary, county boards of elections must receive absentee ballots, which can be mailed back or hand-delivered, by 7:30 p.m. April 28. Application request forms must be received by boards of elections by noon on April 25.

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