Ohio Officials Consider Conducting a Mail-Only Election

Gov. Mike DeWine is considering requiring that the postponed March 17 primary election be entirely replaced with a mail-in election. While it is currently only an idea, DeWine says the state is open to discussion.

by Rich Exner, The Plain Dealer / March 18, 2020
Absentee voting in Ohio primaries historically is a much smaller share of the total vote than in general elections. TNS

(TNS) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine opened the door Tuesday to the possibility that the postponed March 17 primary election could be conducted by mail – something that a handful of other states have done for years.

DeWine, asked during his daily coronavirus briefing if he would consider a mail-in election, said his focus in suggesting a June 2 primary was to provide enough time for Democrats, Republicans and independents to exercise their right to vote.

“We put forward an idea. … but we are open to discussion,” the governor said.

At least 21 states have provisions to allow elections to be conducted entirely by mail, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures.

Many states defer to local officials, and some limit the types of elections that can be done by mail only.

But four states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – conduct their elections by mail statewide, the NCSL reports in a state-by-state summary.

The Oregon way

Oregon, for example, boasts of having what it calls “the most convenient voting system in the country.”

Registered voters in Oregon receive their ballots two to three weeks before elections, and can return them by mail or place them in drop boxes across the state.

Mail-only voting states rank high for voter participation – Colorado second in 2018 at 63% turnout, Oregon fifth at 61.% and Washington seventh at 58.9%, data compiled by nonprofitvote.org showed. (Hawaii is launching mail elections this year, with all voters receiving ballots about 18 days ahead of time.)

Ohio ranked 29th for turnout at 50.9%.

Ohio’s current mail-in system

In Ohio, all voters do have the option of voting by mail or in advance in-person at a county board of elections office. But doing so by mail requires filling out a ballot request form or providing the same information requested on the form, mailing it in, waiting for the ballot, and then sending the completed ballot back to election officials.

During the last two presidential elections, the process was streamlined a bit. Every active Ohio voter automatically received an application to request an absentee ballot if they so desired.

“We prefer for the Secretary of State to mail out absentee ballot requests for every eligible voter for every election," said Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters. "Changes to our system are certainly on the table because this crisis has shown that Ohio law is not compatible with 21st century challenges.”

How many vote absentee?

Until 2006, Ohio voters had to have a reason to vote absentee, such as being ill or out of town on election day.

The law was changed beginning with the 2006 primary to permit absentee voting by anyone.

Typically, about 30% of the votes are cast absentee in general elections, far less-so for primaries.

Potential advantages include voter convenience and cost savings, the National Conference for State Legislatures outlined in a summary. A Pew Charitable Trust study found cost savings of about 40% in Colorado.

Potential disadvantages noted by the NCSL included breaking tradition, and possible coercion by family members or others when voting is not done in a private voting booth.

Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, said she favored making mail-in voting easier, but did have some concerns, including the privacy issue and how frequently ballots would be rejected because of signature issues.

©2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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