Last Saturday, the Ohio Legislature enacted a new plan for the 2020 Ohio primary election. Instead of following the suggestion of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Gov. Mike DeWine that the in-person primary be pushed back to June 2, the legislature eliminated the in-person-voting option from this year’s primary entirely, meaning that voters can only vote by mail.
In the previously proposed plan, voters could request an absentee ballot up until May 26. Now, the deadline has moved back a full month; voters can only request a ballot until April 25.
Ballots must be postmarked by Monday, April 27 in order to be counted.
On March 16, just hours before the polls were to have opened for the March 17 primary, DeWine had Ohio Health Director Amy Acton declare a public health emergency and order the polls not to open. The fear was that crowded polling places and the inability to ensure that voting machines and polling stations could be properly sanitized between voters might increase the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
According to the secretary of state’s recent press release, LaRose was disappointed with the legislature’s decision this past Saturday. However, under Ohio law, only the legislature has the power to reschedule an election, so there was no choice but to comply. On March 27, Gov. DeWine signed the Ohio Legislature's plan into law.
Individual counties’ boards of elections also had no say in the decision. Eric Corbin, the deputy director of the Butler County Board of Elections, was skeptical from the beginning about the June 2 primary date.
“The June date was just a suggestion,” Corbin said. “The decision was always up to the Ohio Legislature,” he said.
Corbin said it’s been difficult to determine how the new plan will affect voter turnout. In the May 2018 primary election, 87% of voters cast their ballots in-person on election day. That number hasn’t changed more than 5% since 2006.
“We’re definitely going to have a different turnout,” Corbin said. He just isn’t sure which way it will swing.
With an all mail-in primary, the turnout could be even higher than usual, said Corbin, because people don’t have to leave their homes. However, a lot of citizens have never voted by mail before, and may not want to learn how.
The Butler County Board of Elections has hired extra staffing to help with absentee ballots. Temporary workers work to process applications and mail ballots out, and when the ballots start coming in next week, they’ll help count the votes.
They’ve been getting an overflow of questions from the public. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook,” Corbin said. “There’s definitely a lot of confusion out there.” Many voters are also taking to Facebook to comment or message the board directly.
On the board’s website, a press release was issued Wednesday titled “The polls were closed, so now what?” It contains all necessary information for voters to request absentee ballots and return them in time to be counted. There’s even more information on the secretary of state’s website, which includes an FAQ page for voters with questions.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is noon, Saturday, April 25. The application can be found here, and must be mailed to the address below. Once received and completed, ballots must be postmarked by Monday, April 27, and mailed to:
Butler County Board of Elections
1802 Princeton Rd #600, Hamilton, OH 45011