Mailbag: How can someone with COVID-19 vote this year?

By: - October 29, 2020 12:50 am

Voters in line. Photo by John McCosh, Georgia Recorder/States Newsroom.

The election season is wrapping up, but the Ohio Capital Journal Mailbag carries on. Let’s get to it: 

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

Who makes the “call” in Ohio that a candidate has enough votes tallied to declare the winners of the election? Is this done by a national organization like the Associated Press, or is this decision made locally? 

– Kathi Domalski, on Twitter. 

Answer: Yes, the Associated Press has traditionally been a news organization that tracks results and makes the “call” of declaring a winner. Things will look a little different in 2020, however.

The Associated Press, as readers likely know, is a newswire service with reporters located throughout the country. For Election Day, AP hires “stringers” to monitor the results posted by county boards of elections after polls close. 

Most boards of elections will announce results as they come in from precincts all around the county. (You’ve probably seen news reports saying things like, “With 10 out of 25 precincts reporting, Candidate A has a lead of 1,000 votes…”). 

The stringers report the figures back to AP, which processes that data along with a variety of other research factors in order to determine the winner. 

AP has a pretty good track record, with a 99.8% accuracy rate in calling thousands of 2016 races.

This system is typically a lot faster than simply waiting for 88 counties to report results back to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office for broad dissemination. AP serves member newspapers and broadcasters, and it’s important for outlets to be able to know (as early as can be reliably determined) who the winner will be in a given race. 

Sometimes it comes down to the last votes reported, hence why it’s important to have stringers in every county from Cuyahoga to Vinton. Other times, the initial precincts foretell a blowout and the “call” comes in early. Those are the humorous times when you’ll see TV networks announce the results of a race — say, the presidential contest in deeply-red Wyoming — approximately 2 seconds after the polls close.

Which gets us to 2020. As I outlined in an earlier Mailbag installment, it is very likely we will not see a winner declared on election night. You can read more about that here, but the gist is there will be a heap of eligible absentee and provisional ballots which will not be included in the election night totals. 

Secretary of State Frank LaRose plans to announce outstanding absentee ballots on election night.

Helpfully, Secretary of State Frank LaRose plans to announce the outstanding absentee ballots on election night that haven’t been received yet. And the number of provisional ballots cast are traditionally announced that night as well, though we won’t immediately know how many are eligible and which way they voted. 

If Joe Biden or Donald Trump have an election night lead of 400,000 votes with only 250,000 absentee and provisional ballots still to be theoretically counted, that will make AP’s job a lot easier. If the margin is tighter than the outstanding ballot count, we all better be patient for the official count later in November.

“We certainly want to tell the American people — and the world — who has won the presidency as soon as possible, but accuracy comes first,” AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee wrote a few weeks ago

Buzbee said AP plans to declare a winner “when there is no chance the trailing candidate will catch the leader. It may take longer than we might like.”

If a person catches COVID before they’ve voted, what would their options be at that point?

– Stacey Hauff, on Twitter.

Answer: All voters, even those who have the coronavirus, have options available to make sure they can cast a ballot.

Boards of elections have a set of health guidelines they are to follow in administering in-person early voting as well as voting on Election Day. These guidelines were issued by Secretary LaRose in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health.

The guidelines suggest that elections officials should encourage voters who have the virus (or think they have been exposed) to utilize absentee voting instead.

At this point, though, it’s pretty much too late to get the ball rolling on the absentee ballot process if a voter hasn’t already requested a ballot.

A voting location
Voters can cast curbside ballots in Ohio on Election Day. File photo of a voting location from Wikimedia Commons by Tom Arthur.

Instead, such Ohioans can vote curbside at the early vote center or their polling place on Election Day. Officials are equipped with proper personal protective equipment and are trained to help voters with disabilities or virus circumstances cast ballots from their vehicles. 

“No matter what,” Secretary LaRose said, “every eligible voter who wishes to vote must be permitted to do so after they are asked to consider safer alternatives.”

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

Here are some important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed:

19 lawmakers declared victory over COVID-19 in June. Now it’s spreading to their districts. – Months after lawmakers declared “Mission accomplished!,” I asked them what they thought about the virus still spreading throughout Ohio. 

It was a tiny, blue demonstration in deep red Ohio. Then came the MAGA truck. – Reporter Jake Zuckerman visited the town of Mount Vernon to witness clashing downtown demonstrations between liberals and Trump supporters.

Stark contrast: Christie warns Ohioans how scary coronavirus is, while helping a president who keeps minimizing it – Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered a sobering testimony of being hospitalized with COVID-19. But as reporter Marty Schladen writes, Christie has still worked to support a president who has downplayed the virus he suffered from.

Columbus-area driver of the rich and famous wants leaders to relate – Reporter Susan Tebben wrote about what one local worker is looking for in a presidential candidate this year.



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Tyler Buchanan
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.