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Ohio Voting Guide: What To Know About The 2020 Election

Ohio Voter Guide

Election Day is here. Polls open in Ohio at 6:30 a.m. on November 3, and close at 7:30 p.m. The U.S. presidential race, all 16 Ohio congressional seats and many other state races will be on the ballot.

During the primaries, the coronavirus outbreak pushed Ohio to postpone its spring election and switch to almost entirely absentee voting. This time around, absentee voting has reached record levels, but turnout for in-person voting on Election Day is expected to be unprecedented in its own right.

Below, WOSU put together a guide to help you navigate Ohio’s 2020 election, including information on how to vote, and a rundown of what you can expect on your ballot.

Here’s some key dates to know for the fall election:

  • General election voter registration deadline: Oct. 5, 2020
  • Early voting and mail-in voting begins: Oct. 6, 2020
  • Deadline to request absentee ballot: Oct. 31, 2020
  • Early voting and mail-in voting ends: Nov. 2, 2020
  • General election: Nov. 3, 2020

Voter Information

The early voting center at the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus.
Credit John Minchillo / Associated Press
Associated Press
The early voting center at the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus.

Are You Registered To Vote?

We've passed the cut-off to register to vote for Ohio's November election. The deadline to register was October 5.

Before you can request an absentee ballot or vote in-person, make sure your voter registration is active and up-to-date. Check your voter registration on the Ohio Secretary of State's website.

In-Person Voting

This fall, all Ohio voters can again cast their ballot the old fashioned way, in person.

Ohio has four weeks of early voting, beginning October 6. Theschedule for early votingis set by the Secretary of State, and in every county but Lucas, Miami and Summit, early voting happens at the county board elections.

Here are the dates and times for early in-person voting:

  • October 6-9: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 12-16: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 19-23: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • October 24: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • October 25: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 26-30: 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • October 31: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • November 1: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • November 2: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Voting on Election Day will happen at polling locations based on where voters live. Because of the pandemic, it’s possible some polling locations could move from where you're accustomed. The Secretary of State’s Office has a handy tool for looking up where voters are supposed to cast their ballot.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. However, as long as you are already in line when that deadline hits, Ohio law requires you to be allowed to vote – so make sure you stay in line!

Curbside Voting

Curbside votingis another option for in-person voting this year. It offers voters the opportunity to cast their ballot on Election Day, potentially from inside their car, without stepping foot inside the polling place.

This option is available for voters with disabilities, as well as for anyone who doesn't feel comfortable entering a building because of the coronavirus. Curbside voting will also be strongly encouraged for voters who recently tested positive or are symptomatic for COVID-19.

A bipartisan pair of election officials – wearing face masks and gloves – will come to your car, verify your registration and eligibility, and then deliver a physical ballot through the car window. Once you fill the ballot out, you'll hand it back to the poll workers, who will submit it inside the building.

As with all in-person voting, if you are already in line for curbside voting by 7:30 p.m., you are legally allowed to be able to vote.

Do I Need Voter ID?

Yes, but not necessarily a picture ID. To get an absentee ballot or cast your vote in person, Ohio law requires some form of acceptable identification, which includes:

  • An unexpired Ohio driver’s license or state ID card with present or former address, as long as your present residential address is in the official list of registered voters for that precinct
  • A military ID
  • A photo ID issued by the United States government or the State of Ohio, that contains your name and current address, and that has not passed its expiration
  • An original or copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other document with your name and present address ("current" means in the last 12 months).

Check the entire list of acceptable IDs here.

If you do not bring an acceptable form of ID, or if your eligibility is in question because you moved or changed your name but didn't update your registration, you can still vote using a provisional ballot

Voting provisionally simply means that election officials need to double-check your eligibility. To do so, you must visit the Board of Elections within one week after Election Day to provide that identification, so your vote can be counted in the final election totals. Election officials are also required to attempt to contact voters by mail, phone or email to resolve any issues with their ballots.

COVID-19 Precautions

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, face coverings are technically required at polling places for both poll workers and voters.

Face masks are the most effective way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. If you don't have your own face mask, your polling place will provide you one for free.

In the case that someone refuses to wear a face mask, the Ohio Secretary of State has said they cannot be prevented from voting. Instead, they'll be offered the option to vote curbside. In a last-case scenario, people who also refuse to vote curbside will be escorted into a polling place with additional safety precautions.

All polling places will also have hand sanitizer readily available, and are operating under heightened cleaning protocols and social distancing requirements. Those distancing rules may also mean that lines appear longer than they actually are.

Absentee Voting

Millions of Ohioans have chosen to cast their vote via absentee ballots this fall. The deadline to https://youtu.be/hpLaUM2R3rk">request an absentee ballotwas October 31 at 12 p.m.

You can get an absentee ballot in the following ways:

  1. Go online and print your own absentee ballot request form.
  2. Fill out the required information by hand on a blank sheet of paper.
  3. Call yourlocal board of electionsand ask them to send you a form.
  4. Or, if you're one of 8 million Ohioans already registered to vote, you may have received an absentee ballot request form in the mail from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office.

Whichever method you choose, you have to fill out and send the completed request form to your local board of elections, then wait for the board to mail back a ballot. Ballots were mailed out starting October 6.
Fill that ballot out and mail it back to your board of elections. You can track the status of your application and ballot here.

Make sure to fill out every field on the application. Common errors on absentee ballot requests include:

  • failing to fill out your date-of-birth,
  • writing your nickname instead of your full legal name,
  • and failing to sign and date the application.

If you're concerned about filling out your absentee ballot application correctly, put down your phone number or email address on the form. That way, if the county board of elections finds any problem with your application, they're required to contact you through one of those means so it can be fixed.
Watch this video explaining how to complete and return mail-in ballot for the 2020 general election.

To vote by mail, which is a secure and popular method of voting, your ballot must be postmarked by November 2, the day before the election. You also must attach your own postage.

Please note: You should mail your ballot as soon as possible. That back-and-forthcould mean four trips through the mail, and the U.S. Postal Service estimates it may take between 2-5 days to deliver each way. This spring election saw even longer delays, and many Ohioans had their votes invalidated because they arrived late. Voting rights groups suggest mailing your ballot at least a week before Election Day.

Your ballots can be received up to 10 days after Election Day to be counted.

Ballot Drop Boxes

If you're still hanging on to an absentee ballot that you haven't mailed in, and you don't want to vote in-person, this is the option you should take.

Instead of sending your absentee ballot through the mail, you can drop off your ballot in person at your county board of elections anytime before November 3 at 7:30 p.m. 

Each of Ohio's 88 election boards has a secure drop box for turning in ballots and ballot requests. Find the location of your board of elections here.

What If I Change My Mind About Voting Absentee?

Voting rights groups and election officials are adamant: Voting absentee by mail is safe and secure, especially if you fill out and mail your ballot as soon as you get it. But it's possible that, even after requesting your absentee ballot, you may want to vote in-person after all.

The Ohio Secretary of State's office has made it clear that Ohioans who request absentee ballots through the mail can choose instead to vote early at your in-person voting site, as long as you didn't already mail your ballot back. Either way, voting early will mean your vote is among the first counted on Election Night.

However, if you've requested an absentee ballot and then show up to vote in-person on Election Day, you will be required to vote provisionally. Your ballot will eventually be counted, but it won't be included on the Election Night totals.

What Can I Expect On Election Night?

Because of the huge turnout expected this election, and varying protocols around the country for handling mail-in ballots, we may not know the results of the presidential election or other races until very late.

In fact, it's entirely possible that we don't know the winner of the presidential raceuntil after November 3. That does not mean there's anything wrong with the voting process – simply that states are following the law. Ohio election boards will start their official canvass of results on November 14 and complete them by November 18.

On Election Night, WOSU and NPR do not "call" races, but rather rely on vote counting and race calls provided by the Associated Press. You can read about how NPR is reporting election results here.

When results start coming in on November 3, the first numbers you'll see will be from early and absentee ballots. Under Ohio law, unlike some neighboring states, county election boards can start processing early votes before Election Day.

As often happens, Democrats have been voting early in larger numbers than Republicans, who are more likely to vote on Election Day. That means those initial numbers will likely trend Democratic, before experiencing a "red shift" as election boards report results from that day.

For the first time, the Ohio Secretary of State's Officewill publicly display the number of outstanding absentee and provisional ballots, which could impact the outcome of a race. There are currently about 240,000 ballots outstanding, as of Tuesday morning.

Will There Be Enough Poll Workers?

Because of the pandemic, one big concern among election officials and voting rights advocates was a shortage of poll workers. A large contingent of retirees usually pitch in on Election Day, but COVID-19 makes that risky.

After a months-long campaign from county boards and the Secretary of State urging people to sign on, a record number of Ohioansare now trained as poll workers. The vast majority of counties have met their recruitment goals, but you can still sign up to be a poll worker here.

What Am I Voting On?

Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right).
Credit Associated Press
Associated Press
Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right).

Below is a rundown of some of the major races you'll see on Ohio's ballot this November, from the presidential race on down. Find your sample ballot here.

The President

At the top of the ticket is the U.S. presidential race between former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, and incumbent President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate.

Trump's running mate remains Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana.

Biden is running alongside Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is the first African American, first Asian American and the third woman ever nominated as vice president. Harris herself ran for president last year, before dropping out and endorsing Biden.

Jo Jorgensenwill appear on the ballot as the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, with running mate Spike Cohen.

Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker will also appear on the ballot as independent candidates for president and vice president.

For independent candidates for president and vice president, the deadline for filing a signature petition was August 5 at 4 p.m. Rapper Kanye West did not qualify as a presidential candidate in Ohio, due to problems with his nominating petition, although he will appear on the ballot in several other states.

U.S. House

The presidency isn't the only federal-level election happening this year. All 16 of Ohio's congressional seats are also up for grabs in 2020.

Currently the delegation is occupied by 12 Republicans and four Democrats, and although Ohio voters approved a planto redraw the Congressional map, that won't impact any election until 2022.

Here's a rundown of the candidates in each of Ohio's districts.

1st District

2nd District

3rd District

4th District

5th District

6th District

7th District

8th District

9th District

10th District

11th District

12th District

13th District

14th District

15th District

16th District

Ohio Supreme Court

There won't be many statewide votes this fall, with the exception of two Ohio Supreme Court seats.

Republicans Judith French and Sharon Kennedy are both seeking re-election to another six-year term on the state's highest court. Currently, five of the court's seven judges are Republicans. 

French faces a Democratic challenger in Jennifer Brunner, a former Ohio Secretary of State and current judge on Ohio's 10th District Court of Appeals.

Kennedy will face Democrat John P. O'Donnell, currently a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Ohio General Assembly

Every seat in the Ohio House and half of the seats in the Ohio Senate are also on the ballot this year. Both chambers are currently controlled by Republican supermajorities.

As with U.S. House seats, Ohio is scheduled to redraw the state legislative mapfollowing the 2020 Census.

While there are too many contests to list here, WOSU will provide results for all state legislature races on Election Day.

What Do You Want To Hear In 2020?

In this Oct. 10, 2018, file photo, a voter casts their ballot on the first day of early voting at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati.
Credit John Minchillo / Associated Press
Associated Press

Now WOSU wants to hear from you.

Maybe you’ve already made your decision on who you're supporting in this year's elections, but many people in Ohio remain undecided. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or somewhere in the middle, WOSU wants your input: What is the biggest issue on your mind in 2020, and why does it matter to you?

Submit your response to that question below, and WOSU may get in touch for a future story.


Nick Evans contributed to this article.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.