Ohio didn't have a lot of time before the primary election to adjust after the pandemic struck. The hectic, confusing announcements from Gov. Mike DeWine, ensuing court battle and eventual postponement from March to late April is something the state will be looking to avoid in November's presidential election.
“Clearly, nobody envisioned the Ohio primary occurring this way. There were many parts about this that were not ideal, obviously, in emergency situations,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told reporters Tuesday. “Sometimes, leaders are faced with choices between bad and worse, right? And so, in many ways, those were some of the difficult choices that we had.”
LaRose has proposed four changes the state legislature should adopt by early summer to make voting easier, though some state Democrats say the measures don't go far enough.
In addition to allowing voters to request ballots online, LaRose also wants the state to include postage-paid envelopes for ballots, to move the deadline for requesting a ballot to a week before the election, and to release federal funds to the 88 boards of elections to buy equipment and hire workers to process a large number of absentee ballots and to facilitate possible changes in polling locations to satisfy safety and social distancing guidelines.
While the Ohio Women League of Voters agree with some of LaRose's proposals, they’d like to see additional steps taken. The organization is calling for expanded voting centers for the election.
“We agree with what the Secretary of State is proposing,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio Women League of Voters. “In addition, we’d like to see Ohioans be allowed to vote at any voting center in their county, especially if there are fewer polling stations.”
The organization, along with some Democratic members of Ohio’s Congress, are also calling for expanded early voting. They want to see drop-off ballots expanded by adding additional ballot boxes and are calling for an expansion of the limits of people that would be allowed to drop off a ballot.
“If your neighbor is going to the drop-off box, they should be allowed to take the ballots from their household and yours and drop them all off at once,” said Miller.
Currently, state law only allows for immediate family members to return completed ballots. In a letter signed by 22 Ohio Democrats, they called for community organizations, labor unions and trusted helpers to deliver sealed ballots. LaRose rejects the call for expansion in that regard and uses the oft-repeated “Ballot Harvesting” term, a phrase often echoed by Republicans to make often false claims of voter fraud.
“Ohio has long outlawed ballot harvesting because it creates opportunities for cheating. Yet some Ohio Democratic leaders are calling for legalizing ballot harvesting. Election fraud is rare and we should work to keep it that way. So why do they want to weaken Ohio’s safeguards?” tweeted LaRose.
Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, an Akron Democrat, echoed the call for expanded voting. “We’re not saying this should be all-mail, and we’re not saying this should be all in-person,” she said. “What we are saying is we need to start preparing for every possible scenario, because we have no clue what October could look like.”
In addition, voter registration is currently cut off 30 days before the election. Democrats would like to see registration allowed closer to the election.
LaRose told reporters yesterday that he doesn't think that's feasible.
“The reason why I’m not proposing those kind of changes, candidly, is because six months before — I’ve got a countdown clock behind me — the early voting starts in 146 days. Making changes like that, that are vastly different from what Ohioans have encountered in the past, can lead to confusion, not only for the boards, but for voters as well,” he said.
While President Trump tweetrants, incorrectly, that, "Mail in ballots substantially increase the risk of crime and VOTER FRAUD,” LaRose has been steadfast in sharing facts with Ohio voters.
“As I’ve said, we’re fortunate that we’ve been doing vote-by-mail for a long time," he tweeted. "We know how to do it, and we know how to get it done securely. Hope we can get back to normal for November, but we’ll be ready no matter the situation.”
All of this comes after news that the Butler County Board of Elections received 317 ballots after the May 8 deadline for them to count in the 2020 primary because the United States Postal Service delivered them late.
This kind of failure is unacceptable. We need to strengthen our absentee ballot process for the fall, and the @USPS needs to improve their protocols.— Frank LaRose (@FrankLaRose) May 13, 2020
Your vote is too important for anything less. https://t.co/0TRQPzsrff