Elections Officials See Strong Demand for Absentee Ballots

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Elections officials in Trumbull and Columbiana counties expect absentee ballots to represent about half of all votes cast in the Nov. 3 general election.

They base that projection on requests for absentee ballots they already have received at their respective boards of elections offices with the election still seven weeks away.

As of close of business Sept. 11, the Trumbull County Board of Elections had 20,842 applications for absentee ballots, a level of activity elections director Stephanie Penrose characterized as “robust.” For the 2016 general election, 31,311 early votes were cast between mail-in ballots and ballots cast in person at the board offices.

In Columbiana County, deputy elections director Bryce Miner reported 10,335 applications for no-fault absentee ballots and another 82 from military or overseas voters. In 2016, absentee ballots totaled 10,868, “so we’ve almost surpassed that,” he said.

The strong local response mirrors what is taking place statewide. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose reported that as of Sept. 4, just over 1 million absentee ballot applications had been received by local board of elections offices statewide.

In 2016, the 1 million absentee ballot application threshold for the general election hadn’t been reached until 28 days out from Election Day.

“While we’re making sure voters will be able to safely vote in-person, this incredible demand for absentee voting speaks to the confidence Ohioans have in the system,” LaRose said in a statement. “It’s strong. It’s secure. And our county boards of elections are prepared.”

LaRose and other officials have urged Ohioans to cast absentee ballots to limit the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, which is expected to still be active come November. Public health officials put the U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic at 193,000 as of Friday.

The 50% absentee ballot vote Penrose is projecting in Trumbull would be far above the 31% of ballots that were cast absentee in the 2016 general election.

“I expected the absentees to go up this election with everything that’s going on,” she said. The board is preparing a vacant bank building adjacent to its offices on U.S. 422 in Warren to serve as an early voting site starting Oct. 6, the first day in-person early voting is permitted in Ohio.

Bryce likewise isn’t surprised at the number of absentee ballot requests he is receiving, a phenomenon he attributes in part to the multiple application request forms voters are receiving from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office along with state political parties and other political players.

He expects up to 25,000 of county voters to cast absentee ballots. In 2016, 47,025 total ballots were cast in the general election, he reported.

Both local elections officials attributed the volume in part to voters unnecessarily sending in multiple absentee ballot requests.

“We are receiving a lot of multiples,” Miner said.

“They just think every time they get [an absentee ballot request form in the mail] they have to send one in,” Penrose said. Many also might be sending multiple requests because they haven’t yet received their ballots, which boards of elections can’t mail to voters until Oct. 6, when early voting in Ohio begins.

What voters don’t realize is that each request still takes time to process and once the first one is entered into the system subsequent ones will be rejected.

“It’s time consuming,” Penrose said. “We have a finite number of people who can do the work and we are trying to be careful so everybody gets what they’re supposed to get.”

Voters can check if their ballot application has been received by going onto the county board of elections website, she said. She also advised waiting until closer to October to do so to give her staff time to process the applications.

“Quality takes time and accuracy takes time. That’s what we pride ourselves on,” she said. “We are processing them at the rate we are able, and that includes working extra hours and Saturdays just to get the job done right. I’d rather be accurate than fast.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.