Some 50,000 absentee ballots have been cast in Hamilton County since the coronavirus sent the Ohio primary election to the mailbox.
Thousands more are still expected to participate before this unprecedented vote-by-mail only election ends on April 28. And lots of confusion and questions remain about how to vote and how to make sure your vote is counted.
The Enquirer has you covered right here.
Sherry Poland, Hamilton County Board of Elections executive director, addressed all you need to know about the stay-at-home election on The Enquirer's That's So Cincinnati podcast this week. Here's a guide based off her interview:How to vote: Step-by-step
It's a rather cumbersome process, so here are the steps to follow to make sure you get to vote and it gets counted.
1. Fill out an absentee ballot application.
The application can be found on the Board of Elections website: votehamiltoncountyohio.gov
. Print it out and mail it in. (Click here to download
the application.) If you do not have access to a printer, contact the board of elections and ask to have an application mailed to you. Applications also can be picked up at the Board of Elections offices (4700 Smith Road, Norwood), 12 Kroger stores
throughout Hamilton County and found in the Sunday Enquirer print edition.
2. Mail or drop off the application at the Board of Elections.
Either way, the board must receive the application by 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 25. If you don't have the application in by then, you will not be able to vote in the primary. If mailing, you have to pay for your own postage. Drive-up, drop boxes are available at the Board of Elections. Take note: You cannot email or fax the ballot. State law does not allow for the electronic distribution and submission of ballots and related documents.
3. Receive your ballot in the mail.
This is the only way you can receive a ballot. You cannot pick it up anywhere, not even at the Board of Elections.
4. Fill out the ballot and mail or drop off at the Board of Elections.
If you mail your ballot, it must be postmarked no later than April 27. Postage is already paid for, so save your stamps. Or if you choose to drop it off at the Board of Elections, it must be done by 7:30 p.m. on April 28. Don't forget to pick your preferred ballot
Republican? Democrat? Libertarian? Strictly a non-partisan issues voter? Regardless, you need to make it known on the application which type of voter you are in order to receive a ballot – and save yourself and board officials lots of headaches.
"We are receiving applications where a voter is forgetting to check the box to let us know what type of ballot they are requesting," Poland said. "This is a primary election, so voters need to tell us if they wish to receive a Democratic ballot, a Republican ballot or an issues-only ballot. For those voters living in the 1st Congressional (District), they also have the option of choosing a Libertarian ballot."
Did you forget to do this? No worries. The board of elections has been contacting voters who've sent in their applications without the box checked for a specific ballot. Or you can call the board to make the correction at 513-632-7000.It's like FedEx for voting
You can track whether your application and subsequently your ballot have been processed. That can be done on votehamiltoncountyohio.gov
.There is no in-person voting.
With a few exceptions.
Disabled and homeless voters will be allowed to cast their ballots in-person at the Board of Elections from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on April 28 only. Anyone who does not fall into those voter categories will not be allowed to vote in-person during the remainder of the election.
Again, voters who have received their ballots by mail can drop those off at the Board of Elections on April 28. But otherwise, elections officials are asking that others do not show up that day at the Board of Elections or polling locations.
"We're just asking for people to do what's right and follow the law," Poland said. Election night: No waiting for precinct reporting
After the 7:30 p.m. voting deadline on April 28, election results will be released "no later than 8 p.m."
There will be some periodic updates throughout the night as other late-arriving ballots are processed. But since there won't be any waiting for each precinct to report results, it shouldn't be an hourslong process to find out who wins the election.
The results will reflect how candidates and issues fared by precinct, since that's how absentee voters are still are tracked.
Ballots postmarked April 27 may not arrive until a day or two after the election. But those ballots will be counted as part of the board's official count in early May. Could this happen again in November?
Maybe, though no decisions have been made to change the logistics of the November general election. Still, an increase in absentee voting could be here to stay as part of the new norm when the pandemic ends.
"Even if we do still have in-person voting in November, I do think more people may decide to vote by mail," Poland said. "We are definitely collecting the data as we go through this spontaneous all-mail election to help us better prepare for November, in case we go to an all-vote-by-mail election or just more people decide to vote by that mechanism."
Ohio elections officials have had preliminary discussions about the possibility of an mail-only November election. If there is a change, she hopes it's decided by July 4 in order to allow voters and the Board of Elections to be fully prepared.
Listen to Poland's full interview on That's So Cincinnati podcast for free by clicking the Audioboom link at the top of this article. You can also subscribe and listen for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and most other listening platforms.
Poland's interview begins at the 23:20 mark in the episode.