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Election Protection: What You Need to Know to Vote by Mail in Ohio This Year

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more voters in Ohio are expected to vote by mail. Requests for absentee ballots must be received at the local board of elections by Oct. 31.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more voters in Ohio are expected to vote by mail. Requests for absentee ballots must be received at the local board of elections by Oct. 31.

In Ohio, any registered voter can vote absentee, either by mail or in person at their county board of elections beginning Oct. 6. Given concerns about coronavirus, more folks are expected to opt for the mail this year. More than 1 million voters have already submitted a vote-by-mail application, though the deadline to ask for the mail-in ballots isn’t until Oct. 31.  
Key dates for the Nov. 3 election

  • Oct. 5, 2020: Deadline to register to vote
  • Oct. 6, 2020: Boards of elections begin mailing ballots in response to requests from voters
  • Oct. 6, 2020: Early in-person voting begins at county boards of elections or at early voting centers
  • Oct. 31, 2020: Deadline to submit an application for a mail-in ballot
  • Nov. 2, 2020: Last date for mail-in ballot to be postmarked; last day for early in-person voting.
  • Nov. 3, 2020: Election Day, in-person polling hours 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Nov. 13, 2020: Last date for mail ballot to be received (dropped off absentee ballots must arrive by Nov. 3)

For those who are considering voting by mail, the first step is requesting a mail-in ballot. The forms are easily available, either by downloading from a county board of elections website or from the form every Ohioan was mailed from the secretary of state. Cuyahoga County Board of Election spokesman Mike West explains why folks may have gotten multiple applications this year.

“The secretary of state mails everybody a ballot application before the presidential election and gubernatorial election. In addition, the campaigns have been known to send out ballot applications,” he said.

Even if you submit more than one form, you’ll only get one ballot.

“As soon as we sit down with the second application and bring your name up in the database, we know you’ve submitted an application so the other one is just put aside,” West said.

To check whether an application has been processed, go to the “Track my Ballot” link on the local county board of elections website. Forms downloaded from the secretary of state or county, it should be scanned and processed fairly quickly. Otherwise, the information has to be entered by hand, which takes longer.

An absentee ballot application
An absentee ballot application

Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters starting Oct. 6. 

It’s really a package with three items: the ballot itself, a specially marked return envelope so the Postal Service handles it efficiently, and an ID envelope to verify the voter's identity. Several forms of identification are acceptable, West says. 

“You have your name, your address, your birth date, some form of ID. And most people just put the last four digits of their social security number," he said. "Or you can use your driver’s license. Or you can include a copy of a rent receipt, government check that’s not older than 12 months and has your address on it.” 

The ballot goes in the ID envelope. The ID envelope goes in the return envelope, which can be mailed or dropped off in a secure drop box. For certain, each county will have at least one drop box this election, which is typically at the county's board of elections. Depending on the outcome of fast-changing court cases, there may be more.

Make sure your mail in ballot includes: 

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your birth date
  • Identification, e.g. Ohio driver’s license number or the last four digits of a social security number

Voters can check the ballot’s status at “Track my Ballot.” West urges voters to take their time in filling out the voting paperwork so they don’t make common errors. 

“One of the biggest mistakes is people put today’s date where they should put their birthday," he said. "So the best thing to do is wait until you’re not rushed and go box by box and read carefully what you’re filling in.”

Mistakes don’t disqualify your ballot, but they do delay its tabulation. That’s because the board will mail a form for you to complete with the correct information and return.

If you’re thinking of being a good Samaritan and mailing ballots for friends and neighbors? Don’t. That’s ballot harvesting and that’s illegal.

Who qualifies to deliver another’s ballot?

  • Spouse 
  • Father or mother 
  • Father-in-law or mother-in-law 
  • Grandfather or grandmother
  • Brother or sister of the whole or half blood
  • Son or daughter
  • Adopting parent or adopted child
  • Stepparent or stepchild
  • Uncle or aunt
  • Nephew or niece

“People have good intentions, but only family members can handle your ballot. There’s a list on the secretary of state’s website for what qualifies as a family member,” West said.

What if someone applied for an absentee ballot that doesn’t arrive before Election Day? That person can vote in person, but will be given a provisional ballot. Those ballots are counted after Election Day, he says.

“That way, bad actors can’t mail a ballot in and then vote twice. That prevents that from happening,” West said.

Mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 2 will be counted as long as they’re received by Nov. 13. But those dropped off must arrive at county boards of elections by Nov. 3.

Copyright 2020 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

Afi Scruggs
Afi Scruggs is an award-winning writer/journalist and author who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her career started in 1983 as a freelancer in Richmond, Va. After that, she worked at newspapers in Washington D.C., Jackson, Miss., and Dayton, Ohio before settling in Cleveland.