COLUMBUS – Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has issued a directive instructing election officials in Ohio to implement new procedures in order to improve Ohio’s system of absentee voting.
“When a ballot is cast by an eligible voter who followed all of the rules, their vote should count,” Husted said.
Ohio law allows a voted absentee ballot to arrive via U.S. mail after the polls have closed, so long as it is postmarked to indicate it was cast and mailed before Election Day. Ohio is one of only 12 states with a system for counting late-arriving ballots, further solidifying the Buckeye State’s position as a leader in absentee voting and ballot access.
For nearly a decade, this system has been carried out in Ohio with few issues. However, during the 2015 General Election, there was a noteworthy rise in the number of absentee ballots received by the boards of elections after Election Day that did not contain a postmark. Those ballots were thus unable to be counted per Ohio law.
“Election officials in Ohio are faced with the responsibility of fixing a problem they don’t control, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction,” said Husted. “Since the 2015 General Election, my office has aggressively pursued answers from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to improve the system. As a result our policies and their practices will be better than they’ve been in the past.”
Husted instructed the boards of elections to follow USPS recommendations including working with local post office officials in order to redesign their courtesy reply envelopes to contain both the official USPS Election Mail logo and the unique Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) in order to increase the electronic visibility of the absentee ballot in the mail stream.
The Secretary of State’s Office has developed a mail insert that will be included with every absentee ballot during the 2016 elections. This insert will give specific instructions so voters can take steps to ensure their ballot is either received by the board of elections prior to Election Day or is at least given a legally-acceptable postmark to ensure the ballot can be counted.
On the advice of the USPS, Husted has also recommended boards of elections resize their absentee ballots in order to fit into a letter-size envelope (up to 6 1/8 inches in height by 11 ½ inches wide and ¼ inch thick), which will increase the likelihood of postmarking in most cases.
“As election officials, we are doing all we can do to make sure it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Husted said. “But we need the voters’ help. Please do not procrastinate in requesting and casting your absentee ballot and utilize the resources that we have available to you online to make your voting experience hassle-free.”
The USPS commonly affixes a fluorescent barcode to envelopes as they are processed. Husted has instructed boards of elections to use this identification tag as an alternate way of determining a ballot’s eligibility in the absence of a traditional postmark. The Secretary of State’s Office will make additional barcode readers available to boards who are unable to purchase their own equipment. This should lead to more legally cast ballots being counted.
“This policy is consistent with the spirit of the law and common sense dictates that we should use technology to count every ballot we can,” concluded Husted.
Absentee voting by mail for the March Presidential Primary Election begins for all Ohio voters on Feb. 17, 2016. The Secretary of State’s website contains a number of resources to help with casting your ballot including finding your polling location, viewing your sample ballot, requesting an absentee ballot by mail and tracking your ballot once you’ve returned it to the board of elections. Visit MyOhioVote.com/VoterToolkit for more information.