Low-key special election offers test run for November 

This voting sticker, designed by student Emily Legg, was chosen in May to be the new sticker in Ohio. Photo courtesy the Secretary of State's Office.

As voters entered the Bowling Green Church of the Nazarene last week, they were greeted with markings on the ground encouraging distance before checking in at the polls.

A glass covering separated voters from precinct officials. Everyone wore masks. And when the results came back on a slate of local property transfers to other school districts, two ballot issues passed by narrow margins: One to nothing.

Over in Hamilton County, poll workers offered hand sanitizer and organizers encouraged voters to bring their own pens to safely mark their ballots.

The Aug. 4 special election did not exactly feature the same high-stakes political ramifications as we can expect this November. In fact, Secretary of State Frank LaRose had pitched earlier this year skipping the election entirely on account of the coronavirus.

A polling place in Wood County is seen during the Aug. 4 special election. Photo courtesy the Wood County Board of Elections Facebook page.

But a smattering of local governments and school districts around the state filed tax levies anyway. In truth, an election few wanted (or even knew about) may have served as a test run for the crowded presidential election scheduled in four months.

Turnout ranged from just 5.7% in Montgomery County’s Clay Twp., where voters approved a levy for the local fire district, to 21.5% in Shelby County, where voters rejected an emergency tax levy for the Sidney City School District.

Of the dozen or so tax items in Ohio that day, turnout eclipsed 20% in just four all resulting in failed school and village levies. (Coronavirus or not, in August or elsewhere on the calendar, voters show up if their pocketbooks are on the line.)

What would an Election Day be without a squeaker? Around 1,500 residents in Fayette County turned out to vote for a Washington Court House City Schools income tax levy. 

The final tally that night: 751 in favor and 748 against.

In what may be a preview for November, this levy will come down to the provisional and late-arriving absentee ballots. The Washington Court House Record Herald newspaper reported there are 44 combined outstanding ballots which may end up tipping the result in either direction. LaRose visited the Fayette County Board of Elections on election night to observe the proceedings.

Absentees postmarked by the day before the election (in this case, Aug. 3) can be counted if they are received by boards of elections by Aug. 14.

Results are unofficial until boards of elections certify the results later in August. 

The same general timeline of counting ballots is in place for November.

Looking ahead

LaRose and other elections officials are expecting high turnout for the Nov. 3 General Election, which will feature the presidential race, several Ohio Supreme Court races and many state legislative races on the ballot. 

The secretary of state has led a “Ready For November” Task Force working to plan ahead for the election as Ohio continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of voting rights groups have remained vocal in advocating for election safety measures this November, the Ohio Capital Journal has reported. They are also urging LaRose to take action to make this election as accessible to voters as possible.

Voter registration is still available for the next two months. The deadline in order to vote in the General Election is Oct. 5. 

Ohioans looking to vote absentee (by mail) can now submit their ballot request form. This form will be mailed to all registered voters in the fall. It is also available for download online. Once completed, the form should be mailed to your county’s board of elections office. A directory of addresses is available here. A blank ballot will then be mailed to you for you to mail back or drop off at the office. 

In-person early voting will also be available beginning in October.

For more information about the election, visit voteohio.gov.