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Summit County Ballots Finally Headed To Voters After Printing Delays

A Cleveland-based printing company has sent out all of the ballots requested by Summit County as of Tuesday afternoon. But Summit County election officials say the process was marred by delays and a lack of transparency.

The Summit County Board of Elections placed two orders for ballots through Midwest Direct, totaling around 110,000 ballots. Both orders were delayed, said BOE Chairman William Rich, and some ballots were sent out as much as six days late.

Usually, requests for mail in ballots come in small enough numbers that they are manageable for in-house printing. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the board sought an outside printing company to handle the higher volume and ensure everyone who requested a 2020 ballot would get one in a timely manner, Rich said.

“We knew we were going to have far more absentee ballot requests than usual because of the pandemic,” he said. “We also need to have distance between employees in our board office, so that limits our capacity to do this in house.”

According to Rich, printer Midwest Direct failed to communicate or respond to inquiries about the status of the first order of about 95,000 ballots, meant to be sent out Oct. 6.

“They did manage to get Midwest Direct representatives on the phone with the board of elections back here,” Rich said. “Communication from Midwest Direct was poor. We had to initiate it.”

Summit County election officials were told the delay would be a day or two, he said, but further follow ups found the delays extending to between four and six days. The ballots from that order were mailed Oct. 12, he said, and a second order for between 14,000 and 15,000 ballots was placed Oct. 13. The last of those ballots were mailed Monday, Rich said.

The board’s contract with Midwest Direct stipulates ballots should be mailed out within 48 hours of receiving the order, Rich said.

“They did not advise us that they would not be able to get them out in 48 hours, which they were supposed to do so that we would then get to make the choice of whether to send them those ballots,” Rich said. “I don’t see how it was possible that they didn’t know better than that, that it would take longer.”

The most recent delay was on the final order through Midwest Direct, Rich said. Any ballot requests received between now and Oct. 31 will be processed in-house by the board of elections, he said, and mailed out within 24 hours.

“It’s fortunate that these delays occurred early on,” Rich said. “If we had a six-day delay that occurred a week out from the election, that would be a problem.”

The delay is not expected to impact return of the ballots, Rich said, as voters have plenty of time to fill them out and get them postmarked on or before Nov. 2.

In a series of press releases, Midwest Direct said it installed more equipment and brought on additional staff prior to the election to meet printing demands.

“We are proud of our team’s efforts in processing this unprecedented number of ballots in the short time we had to complete them, and we thank them for their diligent efforts,” said CEO Richard Gebbie in a press release sent to ideastream. “In many cases, we processed three times the volume of requests the county board of elections anticipated.”

Ballot requests far exceeded expectations, according to Midwest Direct in a press release, referencing an Ohio county without naming it. Election officials initially predicted 40,000 to 70,000 requests, one press release said, before submitting two orders for 95,000 and 14,000 ballots – a total of 109,000 ballots needing to be printed, which is in line with numbers provided to ideastream by Rich.

“The estimates provided to us from the counties were not what ended up as the reality,” one release said.

The delays are not related to the political beliefs of any members of the company,Gebbie said in a press release emailed to ideastream. Midwest Direct was lambasted by media outlets, including the New York Times, for flying a Trump flag outside its Cleveland headquarters.

“Any suggestion that our personal political beliefs prompted us to slow down ballot production and distribution is absolutely false,” Gebbie said in the emailed press release. “Quite simply, we wouldn’t be in business if we conducted business that way.”

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