PoliticsOhio: A Short Guide To Voting By Mail In Ohio

Sep 14, 2012

Did you recently receive a letter from Secretary of State Jon Husted? Want to know more about it? Emily McCord speaks to voter advocate Ellis Jacobs. He's an attorney with Advocates For Basic Legal Equality, or ABLE. He spells out what it means to request a mail ballot and what to do if you haven't received one yet. Also, he brings us up to speed on what's happening with early voting today.

Welcome to PoliticsOhio. I'm Emily McCord.     

McCord: Ohio voter election laws have been at the center of controversy and here to talk to me today is Ellis Jacobs who is an attorney for ABLE, The advocates for Basic Legal Equality, its a public interests law firm serving Western Ohio. Thanks for being here.

Jacobs: Sure, Emily. Thanks for having me.

M: You've been active, I know, in keeping the states early voting hours in tact over the weekends. Can you tell me where do things stand right now?

J: Sure, there is a pending lawsuit brought by the Obama campaign to restore the three days immediately prior to Election Day, that weekend and Monday, before we all vote on Tuesday and allow people to vote on those days. And the first judge who heard that, a Federal District Court judge said yeah you need to restore those hours not having those hours is a violation of the constitution; violation of equal protection claus. The Secretary of State has appealed that decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and it’s going to be heard before the end of the month. And so presumably before we start [early] voting on October Second we will have an answer to that question of whether or not people will be able to go to their Board of Elections and vote in person, early those last three days before the election.

M: Ohio has more opportunities than a lot of our neighboring states to vote. Why is it so important to restore these early voting hours? Why is it something you've been fighting for?

J: I think to give you a good answer you have to sort of look at the big picture and a little bit of history about Ohio. In 2004, we had a pretty bad election day, if people remember that. There were long lines, people stood in lines for hours and many people didn't actually get to vote in 2004. So many people showed up to vote that our election system couldn't handle that. And so, immediately after that the legislature passed news laws to expand the opportunities to vote in the state. So we came up with 35 days of early voting before Election Day. And then most boards of election added weekend hours and evening’s hours and then based on that scenario we went into 2008 and even more people voted in the state of Ohio than had in 2004 but everything went really smoothly. People didn't stand in lines nobody was turned away. And so having had this really excellent experience in 2008 I get nervous many people get very nervous when you see some politicians wanting to cut back on all those early voting opportunities that made it work so well in 2008 and that’s what we are anxious about.

M: Well now Secretary of State, John Husted, said I’m just trying to create uniformity between all the county boards of elections. Now, I mean, isn't that a fair thing for him to want to do?

J: Well it would make sense if all the counties were uniform. But our counties are dramatically diverse. We have rural counties where less than 10,000 people vote. We have urban counties where more than 500,000 people vote. Each of these counties by law is entitled to have one early voting center. So one location where you can go early to vote. So if I'm in a county where there are only 10,000 people that might want to vote at that one location I'm going to be able to walk right in whenever I want and vote. If I'm in an urban county where there are 500,000 people who might want to vote early at that one location its pretty obvious that the urban county is going to need more hours to accommodate the people and that’s the reason why this idea of one sized fits all doesn't make sense when the entities you are trying to fit are vastly different in size and capabilities.

M: So lets talk about some of the nuts and bolts of the election here. If you are an Ohioan you may have just received something in the mail from the Secretary of State. What is that?

J:That is an application to vote an absentee ballot by the mail and if you are absolutely sure you want to mail your ballot back in then you should go ahead and send that application. What will happen is you will send the application in, the Board of Elections, when the ballots are printed at the beginning of October, will send you a ballot and then you need to fill that ballot out and either mail it in or deliver it. But if you fail to return that ballot when you show up on Election Day to vote they will make you vote a provisional ballot. So only send that application for an absentee ballot to vote by mail in if you are sure you want to vote by mail.

M:If you get one of those does that definitely mean you are registered to vote?

J: Yeah it does. They are drawing those out of the pool of registered voters. Everybody who is registered to vote right now has gotten one of those or will get one those in a few days. If you just registered very recently you will get yours in a couple of weeks. If you've been registered for a while or think you've been registered for a while and you didn't get one of these applications for an absentee ballot then you need to be wondering about whether in fact you are still registered to vote. And you probably should either call your local Board of Elections, go to your local Board of Elections website and check your registration or go to the Secretary of State website and check your registration there. There might be a problem. You should check on it now because if you check on it now you will have time to resolve whatever problem there might be before the cut off for registration, which is October 9th.

M: Lots of information. Thank you so much. I've been speaking with Ellis Jacobs he is an attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality [ABLE]. Thanks for being here.

J: Sure, Emily thanks for having me.