Ohio Primary: State legislature OKs mail-in ballots, eliminates in-person voting

Ohio Primary: State legislature OKs mail-in ballots, eliminates in-person voting
In the March 2020 election, voters will decide on numerous local tax levies, as well as party primaries for county offices, state legislature, state Supreme Court and U.S. Congress. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

UPDATE @ 5:42 p.m.: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said while he advocated a different plan to handle the Ohio Primary, "the legislature has spoken and I will uphold my oath of office by doing everything in my power over the next 34 days to ensure that every Ohio voter has the opportunity to safely make their voice heard."

Under the state legislature’s primary election plan:

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  • The Ohio Secretary of State must design, print and mail approximately 7.8 million informational postcards to every registered Ohioan that explains to them how to obtain the form necessary to request an absentee ballot.
  • Based on preliminary estimates from prospective vendors, it is expected that these postcards will reach registered voters in the second week of April.
  • Voters who want to cast a ballot must then either print out an absentee ballot request form themselves or call their county board and ask for one to be sent to them.
  • Voters must then affix their own postage and send the request to their county board of elections.
  • Boards must then process the request, print the ballot and send it to the voter.
  • Each voter must receive their ballot, cast their vote, and return the ballot in a postage-paid envelope, postmarked by April 27.

LaRose said under his plan, Ohio voters would have had until June 1 to postmark their ballot in a postage-paid envelope for submission and tabulation at their county board of elections.

His office would mail absentee ballot request forms to the approximately 7.2 million registered Ohioans who have not yet voted. The forms would arrive at homes about April 27.

LaRose said his plan skips a step the legislature is ordering him to do -- mail informational postcards to registered voters that explain what they need to do to get an absentee ballot.

INITIAL REPORT

The emergency coronavirus state bill passed by the Ohio legislature extended absentee voting by mail to April 28, however does not mention any in-person voting.

The bill authorized $7 million to pay for costs associated with the election extension.

News Center 7 has reached out to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose for a statement on the legislature’s decision and are awaiting his response.

In-person voting was not permitted in the state following Dr. Amy Acton’s late-night emergency health order to close polls on March 17 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That order came after a Franklin County Common Pleas court judge ruled the same night that the polls should have been opened.

The back-and-forth caused confusion for Ohioans in the hours leading up to the scheduled election.

Governor Mike DeWine said he plans to sign the bill soon.

“This bill will ensure continuity of government, extended mail-in voting for our primary, clarity for schools and students, relief to workers impacted by COVID-19, and measures to make sure we are prepared to help Ohioans get back to work when this pandemic subsides,” DeWine said.

Rep. Niraj Antani, who was in the Franklin County courtroom for the March 16 ruling, also supported the bill.

“Extending absentee ballot by mail voting until April 28 will give Ohioans the opportunity to express their Constitutional right to vote, while also protecting the health and safety of voters during this virus,” Antani said.

This story will be updated as News Center 7 learns more about the procedures Miami Valley residents will need to know to ensure their vote is counted.