Elections chief says no major problems yet in odd vote
CINCINNATI (AP) — Voter participation in Ohio’s coronavirus-extended primary election is on a slow pace, but the state’s election chief said Wednesday there have been no major problems so far with less than a week to go.
Numbers released Tuesday by the secretary of state, Republican Frank LaRose, show that 1.67 million people, fewer than a fourth of registered voters, had requested an absentee ballot by the end of last week.
“Given the circumstances, I think things are going as smoothly as they can,” LaRose told The Associated Press on Wednesday. He said county elections officials and employees have really “risen to the occasion” to promote and enable as much voting as possible in an unprecedented state voting situation.
Since the postponement last month, former Vice President Joe Biden’s leading rivals have thrown their support behind him for the Democratic presidential nomination, all but assuring a November general election between him and Republican President Donald Trump.
Ohio doesn’t have any other major contested statewide primaries, but there are a handful of contested congressional primaries, along with numerous races for the Legislature, courts and local races and issues.
“I keep reminding people that even though the presidential primary is largely over … there are still really important decisions that need to be made,” LaRose said, adding that Ohio has repeatedly seen elections decided by handfuls of votes — even by coin flip because of ties. “Every vote matters.”
State authorities postponed in-person voting hours before the scheduled March 17 primary for public safety reasons. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said he didn’t want people to have to choose between risking their health and exercising their constitutional right to vote.
Other states are also relying on mainly mail voting, raising partisan differences and concerns among voting rights groups.
Ohio replaced usual voting with procedures that are nearly all absentee. Disabled voters and homeless people are the only groups that have blanket clearance to vote in person April 28. Other voters have the option to drop off their ballots at their county board of elections by Tuesday evening or to get it postmarked April 27 in order for it to be counted.
LaRose said any eligible voter who requests their mail-in ballot by the noon Saturday deadline but fails to receive it may vote a provisional ballot in person on April 28. Officials encourage voters who haven’t received their ballots to reach out to their county boards right away, however, and not to wait until Tuesday.
Democratic ballot requests were running more than 150,000 ahead of Republicans. There were 705,478 GOP requests.
Then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich and future President Trump combined for nearly 2 million votes in the 2016 GOP primary won by Kasich. And turnout totaled nearly 44%.
Turnout in 2012, when Democratic President Barack Obama was unopposed in the primary, totaled some 25%. The secretary of state’s office said 2018 primary turnout was 21% and 2014’s was 17%.
Those who haven’t requested applications for absentee ballots yet are running out of time, though, especially if they’re relying on mail.
“Yes, the legal deadline to request your Ohio primary ballot is Saturday at noon, but if you don’t get your app in by Wednesday/Thursday, you’re really running the risk of not getting your ballot in time at all,” Brian Hester, chairman of the Democratic Party in Butler County posted on Twitter. “Friendly advice: APPLY ASAP!”
LaRose, elected in 2018, said boards of election are primed to quickly turn around ballot requests. Besides mail, the secretary of state’s voteohio.gov site also provides instruction on printing requests at home or making your own. But he said he’s hoping procrastinators will act soon.
He said there have been a few glitches so far, such as a county named spelled incorrectly on envelopes and a county running out of ballots, but that elections officials have moved quickly to fix them. Elections officials have been on “high alert” for any foreign meddling or efforts at fraud, and LaRose assures Ohioans that can be confident about the security of their ballots.
Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.