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Secretary of state: Mail slowing ballots, USPS pledges improvements

Local election officials say voters need to make sure they include all the required information on absentee ballot request forms and pay close attention to unsolicited request forms they get in the mail. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Local election officials say voters need to make sure they include all the required information on absentee ballot request forms and pay close attention to unsolicited request forms they get in the mail. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Slower than normal mail delivery has hampered the vote-by-mail primary election, according to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, but the U.S. Postal Service will make changes to allow for faster delivery.

LaRose said in a letter to the Ohio Congressional delegation: “We are finding that the delivery of the mail is taking far longer than what is published by the United States Postal Service as expected delivery times. Instead of first-class mail taking 1-3 days for delivery, we have heard wide reports of it taking as long as 7-9 days.”

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LaRose spoke with the deputy postmaster general on Friday and the postal service said it would make improvements.

Those improvements include:

• Setting up hand-to-hand delivery for election mail as it makes its way through processing on Saturday, from the board of elections to the distribution center.

• Rechecking collection bins daily to ensure late arriving ballots are retrieved.

• Tracking election mail deliveries to Ohio’s boards of elections, starting on Monday and continuing through May 8.

• Assigning an independent postal service investigative unit to do additional “all clear” checks at Ohio facilities.

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Ohio officials closed polling locations for in-person voting on March 17 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Lawmakers adopted emergency legislation to extend mail-in voting to April 28.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by April 27 or dropped off in-person at the county Board of Elections by 7:30 p.m. April 28.

Voting rights groups and LaRose pushed for a longer window for mail-in voting but lawmakers opted for the end of April. Ohio’s system relies heavily on the postal service: Voters must mail in a request for an absentee ballot, county boards of elections mail the ballot out, voters mail the ballot back.

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Chuck Greene of Beavercreek said he and his wife, Carla Greene, sent in their requests for absentee ballots two weeks ago but were told by Greene County Board of Elections the request was never received. They filled out applications again and dropped it at the board office on Monday. They still haven’t received ballots, he said.

Greene said elections officials incorrectly told him they couldn’t take a request for an absentee ballot over the phone.

“I’m thinking it’s not going to get here in time and we’re not going to be able to get it back to them in time,” Greene said.

Greene County Board of Elections Chairman John Caupp said: “It’s been a challenge. We have had employees who have been working 12 hours a day.”

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In the 2016 primary election, there were 45,000 voters in Greene County — about 3,000 of whom cast absentee ballots, he said. When the 2020 primary got flipped to an all vote-by-mail election, the county had to scramble to print 50,000 absentee ballots and arrange for 50,000 printed absentee ballot envelopes with postage paid, he said.