Scioto County Board of Elections Director Julia Gearheart says absentee voters should make sure the ballots they mail back to the board of elections is postmarked.
“There’s new instructions (from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted) for all the voters to be aware when they take theirs to the post office to make sure that it is postmarked,” Gearheart told the Daily Times. “You can walk into the post office and make sure they do stamp it with a date.”
Husted issued a directive titled Directive 2016-03, instructing election officials in Ohio to implement new procedures in order to improve Ohio’s system of absentee voting.
“When a ballot is cast by an eligible voter who followed all of the rules, their vote should count,” Husted said.
Ohio law allows a voted absentee ballot to arrive via U.S. mail after the polls have closed, so long as it is postmarked to indicate it was cast and mailed before Election Day. Ohio is one of only 12 states with a system for counting late-arriving ballots, further solidifying the Buckeye State’s position as a leader in absentee voting and ballot access.
“There was one county that their absentee ballots did not have a postmark on them,” Gearheart said. “They came back after the election. It was not our county. We have never had a problem with it before.”
Gearheart said if an envelope containing a ballot has no postmark or is postmarked after election day, the vote cannot be counted.
The Secretary of State’s Office has developed a mail insert that will be included with every absentee ballot during the 2016 elections. This insert will give specific instructions so voters can take steps to ensure their ballot is either received by the board of elections prior to Election Day or is at least given a legally-acceptable postmark to ensure the ballot can be counted.
Another issue has to do with envelope size.
“Some counties are still using the big envelopes for their absentee ballots,” Gearheart said. “We’re not. We’re using the smaller envelopes and we have been for a long time. The post offices are requesting for counties to use the smaller envelopes so he’s (Husted) kind of suggesting that all counties do go to that size.”
On the advice of the USPS, Husted has recommended boards of elections resize their absentee ballots in order to fit into a letter-size envelope (up to 6 1/8 inches in height by 11 ½ inches wide and ¼ inch thick), which will increase the likelihood of postmarking in most cases.
Gearheart said Scioto County utilizes envelopes that fit within the specifications being requested by Husted.
“Our envelopes are pretty much what he is requesting throughout the state,” Gearheart said.
“As election officials, we are doing all we can do to make sure it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Secretary Husted said. “But we need the voters’ help. Please do not procrastinate in requesting and casting your absentee ballot and utilize the resources that we have available to you online to make your voting experience hassle-free.”
“Election officials in Ohio are faced with the responsibility of fixing a problem they don’t control, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction,” added Secretary Husted. “Since the 2015 General Election, my office has aggressively pursued answers from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to improve the system. As a result our policies and their practices will be better than they’ve been in the past.”
Absentee voting by mail for the March Presidential Primary Election begins for all Ohio voters on February 17, 2016. The Secretary of State’s website contains a number of resources to help with casting your ballot including finding your polling location, viewing your sample ballot, requesting an absentee ballot by mail and tracking your ballot once you’ve returned it to the board of elections. Visit MyOhioVote.com/VoterToolkit for more information.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.