LaRose Urges Ohioans to Get Mail-in Ballots Submitted Early

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose pushed back on President Donald Trump’s suggestion last week that voters should cast absentee ballots then attempt to vote in person on Election Day.

Such attempts “might be cause for criminal prosecution” if they were intentional, LaRose warned during a news conference Tuesday morning. 

“That’s not something that Ohioans should do,” he emphasized during the news conference. At campaign events last week, Trump urged voters to cast ballots by mail and go to the polls to vote. 

Election Day – Nov. 3 – is in 56 days with 27 days until the Oct. 5 registration deadline. Early voting begins Oct. 6. 

Should someone cast an absentee ballot and attempt to vote in person on Election Day, that early vote should come up at the polling place, LaRose said. If the person insisted on voting, the only way that could be done is via a provisional ballot. After Election Day, the county board of elections would make certain just the first ballot submitted would be counted. 

“Don’t test our boards of elections. They’re good at this,” he said. 

The Ohio Secretary of State’s office mailed 7.8 million absentee ballot requests, LaRose reported. Common mistakes people make in returning those applications include forgetting to sign the application and writing the day’s date in the section that calls for the birth date.

In addition, he pointed to what he called the biggest mistake: waiting to send in the application. Ohio law permits voters to submit an absentee ballot request as late as the Saturday before Election Day – Oct. 31 – but LaRose called that “a terrible idea.” He is recommending Oct. 27 as the “logistical deadline” to ensure ballots can be sent to voters in time for the election.  

He reminded voters to include an email address and phone number, so that election workers can contact them about making any needed corrections. 

“We’re trying to encourage Ohioans to get in your application right now,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of requests coming in. That’s a good thing.”  

The Mahoning County Board of Elections has 5,434 applications entered on its computers as of Tuesday morning, with eight full baskets to be entered yet and 18 trays of mail that arrived, said Joyce Kale Pesta, elections director.

“I would estimate that we have 8,000 to 9,000 to enter at this time. I have 12 people entering applications on the computer who work from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day,” she said.    

The Columbiana County board of Elections reported a total of 6,070 absentee ballot requests to LaRose’s office Friday afternoon, said deputy director Bryce Miner. That includes military and overseas voters, as well as all valid and invalid requests, he said. 

In addition, voters only need to submit one request, which they can track at VoteOhio.gov, LaRose said. By state law, the ballots can’t be mailed to voters until Oct. 6.   

LaRose is again requesting approval from the Ohio Controlling Board to authorize him to spend $3 million for return postage for mail-in ballots, using funds from fees his office collects. 

The request is on the board’s agenda next Monday. Postage was approved for this year’s primary election, which was postponed and converted to a mail-in election because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“There is no legal argument against doing this,” and the proposal has bipartisan support, he said. “Every argument I’ve heard against it so far has been based on false premises or misunderstandings.” 

Shortly after LaRose’s news conference, Democratic members of Ohio’s delegation to Congress, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, issued a joint statement announcing they sent a letter to LaRose urging him to use his authority to provide prepaid return postage on ballots and ballot applications.  

“In an election where many citizens’ only practical option is to vote by mail, forcing Ohioans to pay postage in order to exercise this right is akin to a modern day poll tax,” the lawmakers said. “Nothing in the Ohio code prohibits you from prepaying return postage on both ballot application forms and ballots themselves.”

They also urged LaRose to work with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure ballots are delivered on time with visible postmarks and do not succumb to delays and cost cutting measures. 

Critics have warned that recent changes at the Postal Service, such as the removal of drop boxes and the decommissioning of sorting machines, could cause delays in mail-in ballots getting their postmarks. To be counted, such ballots are to be postmarked on or before Election Day.

LaRose applauded Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s announcement that he would not take further action on proposed operational changes at the Postal Service until after the election.

“That was the right decision,” he said. Making such changes “right before an election” being conducted during a pandemic is “a really bad idea,” he said. He also reported that DeJoy told him and other elections officials that election mail would be the service’s “top priority.”  

LaRose emphasized that the unofficial results released election night by county boards of elections and the state are just that – unofficial – and “maybe a little bit more unofficial than usual” because of the anticipated record number of absentee ballots. 

The numbers that will start being released shortly after polls close at 7:30 p.m. will largely be the absentee ballots, as the same day ballots will still be in transit at that point. Ohio has an advantage over other states in that boards of elections can begin processing ballots as soon as they arrive to prepare them for tabulation once the polls close.   

Absentee ballots, if postmarked by Nov. 3, can be accepted and counted up to 10 days after the election. The Secretary of State’s website will highlight the number of absentee ballots that are outstanding, he said. 

“The numbers will change between election night and the final certification,” he advised. “It’s not a sign of something nefarious happening. In fact, quite the contrary: it’s a sign that the system is working the way it’s supposed to.” 

Pictured: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose briefs reporters on election preparations at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.