MANSFIELD -- With about seven weeks remaining before Election Day, the Richland County Board of Elections has processed about 573 percent more absentee ballot requests than at the same time in 2016.
Elections Director Paulette Hankins said 10,561 absentee ballots were processed by the end of the day Tuesday, compared to 1,568 at the same date during the last presidential election cycle.
The local elections office has been made busier by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has residents concerned about voting in person on Nov. 3.
"We have several thousand more absentee requests to enter into our system yet," Hankins said.
"We're bringing in extra people mainly to man the phones and assist people at the counter so that our regular staff can concentrate on getting all the requests entered," she said.
"We are almost finished with our logic and accuracy testing, which consists of test-voting each candidate and issue on each voting unit and then tabulating the results of that test to make sure it's counting the votes correctly, and that every position on the ballot is recording the vote properly," Hankins said.
"We've been working Saturdays and we're starting to work a couple of hours each day after the office officially closes at 4," she said.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Tuesday 1,398,347 absentee ballot applications have been received by county boards of elections statewide.
This includes 15,806 requests from military and overseas voters whose absentee ballots will be mailed beginning Friday. All other ballots will be mailed beginning Oct. 6.
Over the past week, almost 400,000 new absentee ballot requests were made by Ohio voters, according to LaRose.
At the same time during the 2016 presidential election cycle, 524,631 absentee ballots had been requested. All data is current as of Sept. 11.
“Ohioans continue to show incredible confidence in our absentee voting system, and our county boards are well-equipped to handle the surge in requests,” LaRose said.
“Whether voting early in-person, at your polling location on election day, or from the comfort of your own home, Ohioans will have their voice heard this fall," he said.
To prepare Ohio boards of elections for the large amount of voters requesting absentee ballots this year, LaRose sent 87 percent of Ohio’s $12.8 million CARES Act allocation directly to the county election boards to strengthen their election infrastructure, hire temporary personnel, and more.
Ohioans can learn more about absentee voting at VoteOhio.gov.
LaRose said voters should consider these best practices when they choose the absentee ballot option:
-- Fill in the information properly. Review the form to ensure you have filled it out properly, including writing your date of birth where required, not the day’s date, as well as signing your request form.
-- Include your e-mail and/or phone number. For the first time in a general election, county board of elections will be calling or e-mailing voters who may need to remedy information on their ballot request form or absentee ballot envelope. Including your information will ensure you can be reached if your ballot request doesn’t have everything filled out properly.
-- Don’t wait. To accommodate necessary processing time at the county board of elections and the time required for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver elections mail, voters should not procrastinate – fill out and mail your absentee ballot request as soon as possible. Note that, by law, ballots are not sent out (other than for overseas voters) until Oct. 6.
-- Double check your return envelope. Before you submit your ballot request form, make sure the envelope is addressed to your county board of elections.
-- Track your ballot. Once their ballot request is received by their county board of elections, voters may track their ballot at VoteOhio.gov/Track. As long as your ballot is postmarked by the day before the election and received within 10 days after the election at your county board of elections, your vote will be tabulated.
Absentee voting in Ohio is time-tested and has strong security checks in place, LaRose said.
"Ohioans have utilized absentee voting for nearly two decades, and that has allowed Ohio to put in place both the laws and processes necessary to make absentee voting secure against fraud," he said.
-- Voter identification and signature are checked twice during the process.
-- Voter list maintenance allows for accurate voter rolls.
-- Ballot harvesting is against the law in Ohio.
-- Voters are able to track their ballot on VoteOhio.gov/Track.
"During the primary, the USPS committed to implementing the following protocols at the urging of Secretary LaRose. It’s our understanding that these improvements will be continued this fall," LaRose said.
-- USPS will institute “all clear” processes at each sorting facility to ensure all election mail is processed each day.
-- Staff will recheck collection bins each day to ensure late arriving ballots are retrieved.
-- USPS will set up hand-to-hand delivery for election mail as it makes its way through processing on the Saturday prior to Election Day, from the board of elections to the distribution center.
-- Postal facilities will track election mail deliveries to Ohio’s boards of elections
-- Election mail will not be routed through the Detroit Regional Distribution Center. Instead it will be kept in-state.