Ohio and Frank LaRose lead the nation in voting by mail
As local election administrators work overtime to ensure the integrity of our elections ahead of November, barbs and heckles from the national peanut gallery threaten to derail their efforts. It’s much easier to disparage election management than it is to actually manage one, which is why these criticisms often boil down to petty partisanship.
Despite the rancor, Ohio remains on track to hold a successful pandemic-era election by increasingly relying on tried-and-true absentee voting. In fact, a recent report by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution graded Ohio seventh nationally on their vote-by-mail pandemic preparedness, trailing only the six states who already have full vote-at-home systems.
Nationally, liberalized access to absentee voting has been polarized, but for no valid reason. Study, after study, after study has shown that increased access to voting in absentia is partisan-neutral. Moreover, states have access to technologies to ensure that voting by mail can be done safely and securely and, in truth, there’s a strong conservative case for allowing absentee voting.
Given all this — and that we’re still in the midst of a debilitating pandemic — it’s heartening to see that the Buckeye state has prudently taken action. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose is preparing voters and election administrators alike for an unusual election. Instead of dragging his feet, Secretary LaRose acted quickly and decisively, putting together a bold Voters First plan ahead of the primary elections, while providing guidance through his Ready for November Task Force.
All Ohio voters will receive an application to vote absentee, no witness signature will be required to vote by mail and voters will have accessible options to return their ballots to secure drop-off locations. The latter will certainly provide relief for those worried about the U.S. Postal Service’s preparedness this November — even though USPS already has the capacity to handle an influx of mail.
The state’s vote-by-mail preparedness will be a boon to Ohioans; according to an April poll, 50% of Ohio voters said they would be less likely to vote in person if the pandemic is still a threat in November. Eighty-one percent supported sending an absentee ballot request form to all voters. Secretary LaRose’s efforts will provide safe and secure access to prospective voters who are concerned about voting in-person.
Yet, there is still important work to be done. Ohio lawmakers should move quickly to allow absentee ballots to be requested online to streamline and simplify processes for local election administrators, who already promise to be overwhelmed with last-minute absentee-ballot requests. The state should allow for prepaid postage, on requests and ballots, which could become a reality. In fact, Secretary LaRose is planning on requesting $3 million from the Ohio Controlling Board to cover postage costs. This would be a prudent step. The last thing we want is voters to violate social-distancing norms by crowding post offices. It will also help guard against ballot harvesting, an illegal tactic in which paid staffers and volunteers attempt to collect ballots on behalf of voters.
Voters have their own role to play to ensure a successful election. To avoid overwhelming election administrators, it is important to flatten the election curve by both requesting and mailing in ballots early.
Younger voters especially should also register to be poll workers to maintain in-person voting locations. The Ohio Supreme Court is already offering lawyers continuing education credits if they serve as poll workers, which is desperately needed. Many older poll workers are backing out, and Ohio needs more than 4,000 people to step up this November.
In Ohio, Secretary LaRose has acted decisively to put the interest of the voters first — other secretaries of state nationwide would do well to follow his lead.
Tyler Fisher is the deputy director for reforms and partnerships at Unite America, a nonpartisan election reform organization. Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, a free market think tank.