On March 17th, in the wee small hours of the morning before voting was to begin in the 2020 Ohio Primary Election, Gov. Mike DeWine and his state board of health postponed the election in deference to the potential threat to people gathering together due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Eight days later, on March 25, the Ohio General Assembly approved a plan to do away with almost all in-person voting in the primary this year. Instead, almost all voting is to be done by absentee ballot. To serve this end, the deadline for submitting absentee ballots has been extended until April 28. The only exceptions to this are people with handicaps that make absentee voting difficult, such as visual impairment, or those who cannot receive mail, for whom in-person voting will be permitted at the various county boards of elections on April 28.
The simplest way to do this would be for the state to either send out requests for absentee ballots to every registered voter, or to require the county boards to do it. But noooooooo! The Republican-controlled legislature, which previously nixed a proposal for a traditional in-person primary on June 2, is placing the burden on the voter to request a ballot.
The best way to do this under the rules now in place is to visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s website (https://www.ohiosos.gov/elections/voters/absentee-voting/), print the request for a ballot, and mail that request (with your own envelope and stamp) to your county board of elections. If you don’t use a computer, don’t have access to a printer, or if this is inconvenient for any other reason, you may also call your county board of elections and ask them to send you a request. Then you have to wait for it to arrive, fill it out, and mail it back. The deadline to request a ballot is high noon on April 25, and the ballot itself must be postmarked no later than April 27. There is one piece of good news: you don’t have to provide your own envelope and stamp to mail in the actual ballot. A postpaid envelope will be provided for that.
The state is going to send you a postcard explaining this procedure (if you’re a registered voter), but that could take until the middle of the month. Then, it will take some time for the request to make its way to the board, and for the staff at the board to process the requests and mail out the ballots. So you might not want to wait for that postcard.
Now, the cynical might wonder whether this fairly complicated system isn’t a deliberate attempt at voter suppression. Of course, our Republican friends in the legislature would never think of pulling such an underhanded trick. Of course not.
This might not yet be the last word on the 2020 primary. It seems that if you’re having those cynical thoughts, you are not alone. In a lawsuit filed by three groups, the ACLU of Ohio, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Demos, a civil rights organization, plaintiffs are asking for several changes. These include:
- Ordering the county boards to send primary ballots to all Ohio voters who have not voted previously.
- Offer in-person voting to any voter who doesn’t receive a ballot on time.
- Pick a new deadline date that will allow the county boards more time to properly organize their efforts and more time to inform voters how things will work.
- Re-open voter registration until 30 days prior to whatever new deadline date is selected.
Supporters of the suit are claiming that the plan now in place discourages voter participation. According to League of Women Voters Executive Director Jen Miller, “Under the General Assembly’s undemocratic election scheme, thousands, if not millions, of Ohioans will not get to vote through no fault of their own. Ohio’s inefficient absentee voting system wasn’t designed for this massive scale, especially under such an impossible time frame.”
The Libertarian Party of Ohio recommends that voters not wait, either for a favorable ruling on the suit challenging the current rules or to receive that postcard reminder. Go to the SoS website or call your county BoE and get your request for an absentee ballot as soon as possible. Fill it out carefully, as any mistakes might mean a delay in receiving your ballot, and make sure that you are requesting a Libertarian primary ballot!
Then, once you receive that ballot, fill it out and mail it in. As a citizen, that’s your right – to vote!