This fall promises many things: the weather will get cooler and the days will get shorter, fall sports will be a hot topic for conversation, and politics will be on many people’s minds as the midterm election draws near.
This column will be a regular feature in the Miami Valley Today in the lead up to the November General Election. Between now and then, I hope to use this space to provide information about how we at the Board of Elections are preparing for what will no doubt be a very busy season.
You can expect to read about several topics in this column:
• Election Security — Specifically what we do to make certain voting equipment and ballots are secure; that all eligible voters are able to cast their ballots, and how we protect voter data and maintain accurate voter rolls.
• Information on different options voters have for casting their ballots, including absentee by mail, early in-person voting, and voting at the polling location on Election Day.
• How and when results are tabulated, and how we prepare and test voting equipment that counts the votes to ensure accuracy.
• The roles of the people who run elections, including board members, staff, precinct election officials, and the secretary of state’s office.
We’ll start by talking about voting absentee by mail. Voting by mail has been around for many years for voters who would be absent on Election Day, in fact, I recall voting by mail when I was in college in the 1980s. “No fault absentee” was made available by the state legislature to any interested voter in 2005. Since then, the number of voters who choose to vote by mail has increased steadily. Miami County had its highest turnout of absentee by mail in the 2020 General Election, when 15,539 voters cast their ballots by mail.
Right before Labor Day, the chief election official in Ohio, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, mailed an application to vote by mail to every active registered voter. Voters who wish to vote in the privacy of their homes simply need to complete the application with their date of birth, identification, and signature, and return the application to the office either by mail in the enclosed envelope, by delivering in person to our office, or dropping in the Board’s drop box, located on the courthouse plaza.
Staff in the office check each application to ensure that the information provided matches the information in the voter’s record. If there is a mismatch, staff will call or email the voter (if contact information is provided) and send a new application in the mail. Only when the identity of the voter is verified does a ballot get sent to the voter. The ballots will start going out in the mail on Oct. 12, the first day of the early voting period. We will continue to send ballots daily until the Saturday before Election Day.
The deadline to request a ballot by mail is the Saturday before Election Day at noon. Although this is the date set in statute, we highly encourage voters to send those applications in well before that deadline in order to allow sufficient time to mail the ballot and return it in time to be counted.
In order to be counted, ballots must be returned no later than 7:30 p.m. on Election Day if returned in person. If returning by mail, ballots must be postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received no later than 10 days after Election Day.
When ballots come back, the same information is checked on the identification envelope to determine the identity of the voter. The voter must provide their date of birth, identification, and signature in order for the ballot to be counted. Voters are notified of any errors or omissions by phone call and letter, and given the opportunity to “cure” their ballot by providing the correct information.
Every election, we receive calls from voters asking about when and how absentee ballots are counted. Many voters believe “absentee ballots only count if the election is close,” but the fact is, absentee ballots are the first ballots to be counted on Election Day. When the polls close and poll-workers are hard at work counting and reconciling the ballots cast at the polling location, we upload all of the ballots cast early, both by mail and in-person, and release those results by 7:45 p.m. So, if you are at home watching results, those earliest results are the ballots that were cast early.
In my next column, I will share information about voting early in-person during the early voting period. I look forward to sharing how the important work done here at the Board of Elections makes it possible for every voter to have faith in the election process and that their votes are counted correctly.
The writer, Laura Bruns, is the director of the Miami County Board of Elections. Bruns can be reached at [email protected].