By Marc Kovac
Voting-rights advocates are urging Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to reconsider a new directive prohibiting county elections boards from contacting residents by phone when mistakes are found on mail-in absentee ballots.
Common Cause Ohio, Project Vote and others say the move will cause more confusion and could prevent some Ohioans from casting ballots in next month’s general election.
“We’d like to ask the secretary of state, can we have a timeout?” asked Sam Gresham, chairman of Common Cause Ohio. “Can we just let the people of Ohio have an opportunity to vote unfettered by politics and by procedural strategies that are designed to keep voters from voting?”
Gresham was one of several speakers during a press conference Tuesday at the Statehouse.
In the past, election boards have called or sent letters to voters if they forgot to sign absentee ballot envelopes, included incorrect information or made other mistakes.
Earlier this month, Husted issued a new directive ordering county elections officials to notify voters in writing only when mistakes were made.
In most cases, “notification may not be made via telephone, email, facsimile or by any means other than in writing by first-class mail,” Husted wrote in the directive.
Matt McClellan, Husted’s spokesman, said state law does not require election boards to contact voters in cases of mistakes, so the secretary’s directive goes “above and beyond” what is required. And he said requiring mailings treats all voters statewide the same.
“A voter’s address is the one piece of information that we have on every voter,” McClellan said. “We don’t have phone numbers for everyone, we don’t have emails for everyone. ... The secretary wants to make sure that elections are administered uniformly. This ensures every voter is treated the same, and it’s uniform across the state.”
Voters also can still call election board offices on their own to ask about the status of their mail-in ballots.