This November’s general election begins in earnest on Friday, when overseas residents, either serving in the military or living, can begin to receive absentee ballots electronically.
In Ohio, that is the only electronic transmission permitted in the absentee voting process, though 31 states and Washington, D.C., allow some of its voting population ― mostly those overseas voters ― to return absentee ballots either by email, fax and/or a secure web portal.
“Ohio is looked upon as the gold standard in election administration because we make it easy and convenient to vote and our elections are both secure and accurate,” said Ohio Secretary of State spokesman Rob Nichols. “To continue our position as a national model, the Secretary (Frank LaRose) believes we should always look for ways to improve and modernize, which is why he is supportive of his priorities within HB 294.”
House Bill 294, which was introduced in May by Ohio Reps. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, and Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, does not address electronically delivered or returned ballots, but it does make several changes and modifications, including implementing automated voter registration, automatic updates to voter registration when a driver’s license is renewed or updated, and allowing curbside voting for those physically unable to enter the building.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and Ohio law allow requested absentee ballots to be emailed or faxed 46 days before Election Day, but ballots must be printed, filled out and signed before they are returned by mail. This process puts UOCAVA ballots through the same checks as a domestic absentee ballot, and provides a paper trail, according to the Secretary of State’s office. But before UOCAVA voters can electronically receive an absentee ballot, they must first fill out a paper form to register their foreign address, which can also serve as a ballot request form. UOCAVA registration forms are only good for one calendar year.
Ohio is one of 19 states that does not allow an absentee ballot to be returned by electronic means. The country’s other 31 states allow some form of electronic transmission of voted UOCAVA ballots:
- Nineteen states, and Washington, D.C., permit both fax and email transmission of a voted UOCAVA;
- seven allow UOCAVA ballots returned by fax only (though Texas has limitations on those transmissions);
- four allows UOCAVA voters to return ballots using a web-based portal (though Colorado and Missouri have limitations on those transmissions); and
- West Virginia is the first state to allow mobile voting app for UOCAVA voters.
In addition to allowing UOCAVA ballots to be emailed or faxed, North Carolina, the country’s ninth most populous state (about 1 million fewer residents than seventh-ranked Ohio), started allowing in 2020 blind or visually impaired voters to request, mark and return an accessible absentee ballot through its North Carolina Absentee Ballot Portal.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said there needs to be “technological competence” when you add technology to voting. He said in a recent Fox Business interview on voting by phone that “public confidence” is also needed to ensure “every vote is counted fairly and free of fraud and shenanigans.”
“...[Y]ou have to sever the identity from the individual so that the individual can cast a secret ballot and not have the way they vote tracked by some government official, which is something we all very strongly believe in,” LaRose said. “That is all very difficult to do.”
As for Ohio voters living at home in the state, they can ask their local board of elections for a ballot request form, or fill the request form out online, however, it must be downloaded, signed, and either mailed or hand-delivered to their county’s board of elections.
But it’s always safer to “err on the side of caution,” said Butler County GOP Executive Chairman Todd Hall.
“One of the most sacred tenants of democracy is the voting ballot. We must be careful to not render our vote process insecure in the name of technology,” said Hall, who also serves on the county elections board. “We do not need further ways for corruption to enter our election process.”
FACTS & FIGURES
Here are how many Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ballots were electronically requested and counted statewide, and within Butler County in the past five general elections:
Ohio: counted 21,944, requested 25,749
Butler County: counted 612, requested 715
Ohio: counted 768, requested 1,921
Butler County: counted 21, requested 66
Ohio: counted 7,496, requested 9,597
Butler County: counted 216, requested 272
Ohio: counted 1,117, requested 537
Butler County: counted 44, requested 16
Ohio: counted 17,942, requested 21,830
Butler County: counted 553, requested 677