The following is specific to Ohio, and concerns absentee ballots and provisional ballots.
First, the problem:
A new Ohio program intended to make voting easier has the potential to keep the presidential election in doubt until late November if the national outcome hinges on the state’s 18 electoral votes.
Under Secretary of State Jon Husted’s initiative to send absentee ballot applications to nearly 7 million registered voters across Ohio, more than 800,000 people so far have asked for but not yet completed an absentee ballot for the Nov. 6 election.
Anyone who does not return an absentee ballot, deciding instead to vote at the polls, will be required to cast a provisional ballot. That’s so officials may verify that they did not vote absentee and also show up at the polls. By state law, provisional ballots may not be counted until at least Nov. 17.
It was really bone-headed to launch this immediately prior to a Presidential election, and anyone with any sense knew this might happen. Even without bad intent, each and every time Republicans change election process, the potential for error goes up.
If you requested an absentee ballot in Ohio, be aware that you have to vote absentee. if you request and receive an absentee ballot and then change your mind and go on Election Day to vote in person, you will be given a provisional ballot. Voting a provisional ballot is a last resort. Avoid doing that.
Second, another win on counting provisional ballots that may help with the problems that will be created by Husted’s decision to send everyone an absentee ballot application, thereby increasing the number of provisional ballots:
Provisional ballots cast not just in the wrong precinct but in the wrong polling location altogether must still be counted, a federal judge ruled today in a lawsuit brought by voter advocates seeking to expand the counting of such ballots.
U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley of Columbus said he based his decision on the rationale that such problems arise because of mistakes by poll workers.
“To disenfranchise citizens whose only error was to rely on poll worker error seems fundamentally unfair,” Marbley said in a decision he announced after hearing arguments from both sides.
Some polling places contain voting machines for several precincts. Voters in the right building but voting in the wrong precinct are labeled “right church, wrong pew.”
The ballots at issue in today’s ruling are dubbed “wrong church, wrong pew,” referring to both a mistaken polling place and a mistaken precinct. A lawyer for a union that sued over the issue said as many as 8,000 voters cast such ballots in 2008.
I am not a fan of provisional balloting. I think it’s too often treated as a default rather than a last resort, I think the process is too complicated and error-prone, and I also think it gives voters a sense of security that is perhaps not justified. I firmly believe we would have seen much more pushback to Republican restrictions on voting a standard ballot had voters not been assured they could vote a provisional ballot. Voting is one thing, and counting the vote is another. There’s a lot of ways to screw up a provisional ballot.
If you requested an absentee ballot and then go to your polling place to vote in person and the poll worker tells you have to vote a provisional ballot, do this instead: go get your absentee ballot, vote it, and deliver it by hand to your County Board of Elections. Now you voted a standard ballot. Problem solved.
Return your voted ballot. You can send it by U.S. mail or deliver it in person to your county board of elections, but the return envelope containing your marked ballot must either be received by your county board of elections prior to the close of the polls on Election Day, or postmarked no later than the day before the election and received by the board of elections no later than 10 days after the election. You cannot fax or e-mail a voted ballot.