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Ohioans Should Fill Their Absentee Ballot Request Carefully, Or Risk Having It Rejected

Stark Country resident Don Woodward mails in his new absentee ballot application ahead of the election in November.
Kelly Woodward
Stark Country resident Don Woodward mails in his new absentee ballot application ahead of the election in November.

Stark County resident Don Woodward guessed he was mistakenly signed up for poll worker training when he got an envelope from the county’s board of elections the other week. Instead, he found out he had made a mistake on his absentee ballot application.

“It’s missing my birth date, from the form? On your application written request. OK, my birth date’s missing," Woodward says. "What’s the issue here? I got to redo the whole thing!”

And Woodward is not alone. By phone, email or mail, some Ohio voters are finding out that they have more work to do before they can vote absentee.

Aaron Ockerman, director of the Ohio Elections Officials Association, said Woodward's mistake is one of the most common reasons that absentee ballot applications are rejected. He completed an application that was mailed to him from either the Secretary of State or another third-party group, with his name and address already listed.

“It was already printed out," Woodward said. "Yeah, so they forgot to put it on there."

But it's actually up to the voter to fill in the birth date. Overlooking a field is easy to do, even more so for many Ohio voters who received an absentee ballot application from a national group called the Center for Voter Information, according to Ockerman.

“And the way they formatted it was not ideal," Ockerman said. "And so it put the date of birth in a really awkward position, and a ton of people did not fill out the date of birth. In Cuyahoga County, their rejection rate was almost 33%. And it was almost all from that organization, and it was almost all date of birth."

The nonprofit’s forms with missing birth dates were also among a large number of the 6.5% of applications rejected at the Stark County Board of Elections.

The Center for Voter Information did not design its own absentee ballot application, but rather modified an old application form from the Ohio Secretary of State by adding highlights and filling in some fields in a mass mailing to Ohio voters.

In a statement, the Center for Voter Information said that it sent text messages reminding voters to fill in their birth dates, after hearing that some were leaving it blank. The group is also sending out a new round of mailings, aiming to increase voter turnout, but this time it is using the Ohio Secretary of State's form, which has been tested for ease of use.

Each county in Ohio offers a way to track the status of your absentee ballot.
Credit Gabe Rosenberg / WOSU
Each county in Ohio offers a way to track the status of your absentee ballot.

No matter what the precautions, mistakes are bound to happen. That's one reason Stark County Board of Elections administrative assistant Travis Secrest is urging people not to procrastinate if they want to vote by mail, especially because of concerns about possible U.S. Postal Service delays.

“The last day for us to process an absentee application is October 31, and that’s far too close to Election Day for the post office to turn the ballot around in time to get to the voter,” Secrest said.

If mistakes do occur, the county board of elections contacts the voter. Then a new application must be submitted for the election board to approve and mail the voter a ballot – which the voter then needs to fill out and either return by mail or at a ballot drop box. (You can track the statusof your application and ballot online.)

Secrest said Stark County has 60,000 voter applications so far, and there's still several more weeks to go. By comparison, the county’s total number of absentee ballots in the 2016 election numbered just 39,000.

Despite the heavy demand for absentee ballots across the state, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ockerman said elections boards are doing a good job keeping up. He is encouraged by the quick response to Woodward's and other voters' flawed applications.

“Well, the good news is that they caught it, and they got to him," Ockerman said. "And he did it early, which is super important."

Early voting in Ohio begins on October 6, and absentee ballots will be mailed out by the Ohio Secretary of State that same day. If you are still planning to vote absentee and have not applied yet, election officials urge you to do it soon – and make sure you've carefully fill out all the spaces.

Kelly Murphy Woodward, a regional Emmy Award-winning producer, loves to tell a good story and has been privileged to do that for more than 20 years, working in public television and radio, commercial news and running her own production business. She is passionate about producing quality programming for Northeast Ohio.