Mailbag: Why aren’t there statewide ballot items in Ohio this year?

In this photo illustration a pencil lies on a U.S. presidential election mail-in ballot. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

The news never stops, and neither does the Mailbag. Let’s get to it:

Got a question about Ohio politics or the elections? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Are there any important statewide ballot initiatives this year? I haven’t heard or seen anything.

– Alex Wood, on Twitter. 

Answer: Nope!

You’ve probably noticed a lack of TV and Facebook commercials from pseudo political groups like Ohioans for Ohio and People for the Betterment of People this fall. We don’t have any such initiatives on the ballot this year. 

That isn’t for lack of trying. In early 2020, we saw proposed constitutional amendments to legalize marijuana and institute legislative term limits, along with a proposed referendum to raise Ohio’s minimum wage.

Getting these issues on the ballot is a rigorous process. Organizers have to collect hundreds of thousands of valid signatures from throughout Ohio. Securing enough signatures is an undertaking in any year, but COVID-19 effectively ended any hopes of achieving this goal in 2020. 

Organizers of the two proposed constitutional amendments sued in Franklin County court seeking to make the process easier by lowering the number of signatures needed and to allow for petitions to be “signed” online. 

In short, Judge David C. Young didn’t go for it.

We may need to wait until the virus subsides in order to see another ballot effort in 2021 or beyond.

As a reminder, voters can find exactly what is on their ballot by going to their county’s board of elections website and searching for “sample ballot.” (An example from Franklin County can be seen here.) This is a helpful tool to make sure there are no surprises when you head to the polls.

If we track our ballot and find out it was ‘thrown out,’ are we able to correct the issue (I.e. the signature doesn’t match) and have our vote count?

– @jhenry1112, on Twitter. 

Answer: Yes, you can.

This question concerns absentee ballots that voters can mail back to their boards of elections or drop off at their county’s ballot drop box.

Ohio features a very helpful ballot tracker that keeps absentee voters apprised of their ballot’s status.

This tracker will note when an absentee application was approved. If the application is missing some of the required information on it, the board of elections is supposed to contact the voter and inform them to resubmit a completed application form.

Once the application is approved, the tracker will also note the date a ballot was mailed out to a voter; the date the ballot was received by the board of elections; and the date the ballot was accepted for counting.

That final part is crucial. Boards don’t actually count the ballots until the polls close on Election Day. But elections officials do check the absentee ballot for voter verification purposes. 

One of the key aspects of absentee voting security in Ohio is a signature match — officials will cross-check the signature on an absentee application (and later the ballot itself) to see if it matches the signature on a voter’s original registration file. 

This signature match check has proven controversial among voting rights advocates, and there was an unsuccessful attempt at getting the process thrown out ahead of the 2020 election. Nevertheless, it remains in place for this fall.

If an absentee ballot is flagged — for a signature mis-match, missing information, etc. — the board of elections is required to contact the voter to get the issue resolved so that the ballot can eventually be counted. The board will send the voter a form to correct whatever was wrong with their original ballot. 

Election Day is Nov. 3, but voters with ballot defects have a “cure period” of up to seven days after the election to resolve their issue to get it counted. 

If a voter has any questions about the status of their ballot or how to resolve any issues, they should contact their county’s board of elections office. A directory can be found here.

When will they begin to count mailed-in ballots? How will boards of elections store mailed-in ballots before they are counted?

– @FinintheLand, on Twitter.

Answer: Ballot counting begins after polls close on Election Day, and there is a secure process in place for how they are stored.

Let’s start with the storage question first.

Absentee ballots are sent to Ohio voters who requested them, with the first batch going out on Oct. 6.

Election Day is not until Nov. 3. So what happens to the ballots in between?

The ballots are stored away inside a special room within each board of elections office that has a “dual-control lock system.” A Democrat working in the office has one key or lock combination, and a Republican has the other. Both must be present in order to unlock the room and unload more ballots inside.

As we’ve written, this lock system is in place for storing other election equipment like voting machines.

The ballot storage room will store votes collected by mail and by drop box. A directive from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose states that elections officials must retrieve a drop box’s contents at least once per day between Oct. 6 and Nov. 3.

As far as counting goes, that does not start until the evening of Election Day. Absentee ballots are the first votes counted (while other polling places wrap up and poll workers bring their ballots back to the board of elections office).

The counting may take awhile. Ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 2 are eligible to be counted so long as the board receives them within 10 days of the election. This is why elections officials and media outlets are warning people ahead of time — it’s possible that we don’t know the winner of an election until the votes are fully counted and certified later in November. 

Got a question about Ohio politics or the elections? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading material: 

DeWine’s tough spot shows in Thursday presser – Gov. Mike DeWine continues to walk the tightrope of being a Republican officeholder in the Trump era, Marty Schladen reported.

State auditor is probing COVID-19 data, but won’t give details – Auditor of State Keith Faber won’t give details about an ongoing audit of the state’s virus data, Jake Zuckerman reported.

Householder, on trial for corruption, gets endorsement from home county – Rep. Larry Householder is no longer the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, but he is still campaigning for re-election and even picked up an endorsement, I reported. 

Small COVID-19 numbers reported in schools, with some spikes – How much is the coronavirus impacting Ohio schools this fall? Susan Tebben reported this update. 

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.