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All-mail Ohio voting called challenging

YOUNGSTOWN — Election officials in Mahoning and Trumbull counties say it’s going to be challenging to have a virtually all-mail April 28 primary, but they don’t expect problems.

“It will be tough,” said Stephanie Penrose, Trumbull County Board of Elections director. “Don’t get me wrong, it will be a heavy workload. But we’re going to get it done.”

Thomas McCabe, deputy director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, said: “It’s a very tight window, but we’ll make it work.”

Both counties reported getting hundreds of telephone calls a day since Thursday, the day after the state Legislature voted to extend the primary from March 17 to April 28.

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests for ballots and numerous calls,” Penrose said. “The Legislature’s decision has drummed up interest in the election.”

Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, canceled the March 17 in-person primary late the night before it was to be held at the request of Gov. Mike DeWine because of a public health concern about the COVID-19 pandemic. DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose called for the primary to be June 2 with mail voting extended and plans for in-person voting June 2.

But the Legislature said that date was too late and voted for a bill with an April 28 primary with no in-person voting except for those with qualifying disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and those without access to the postal system.

The Legislature ordered LaRose to send pre-paid postcards to every registered voter — even if they’ve already voted — explaining how to get an absentee ballot. Those who have already voted won’t be allowed to do it again as their ballots are already at boards of elections waiting to be counted, McCabe and Penrose said.

But it’s probably not a good idea to wait for the postcard to request a ballot, McCabe said.

That’s because LaRose said those postcards probably wouldn’t arrive until the second week of this month.

Voters can get an absentee ballot by printing one out at the secretary of state’s website — voteohio.gov — or at county board of elections websites and then mail it to your county board, call county boards of elections to request a ballot be mailed to you or stop at county boards to pick up one at drop-boxes outside the offices.

The Trumbull board’s website is boe.co.trumbull.oh.us. The Mahoning board’s website is vote.mahoningcountyoh.gov.

Boards of elections offices in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana are closed to the public, but each has drop-boxes to pick up absentee requests. Those boxes can also be used to submit absentee requests as well as completed ballots.

“I’d call or download a request online if you have access to a printer,” McCabe said. “You’re cutting out a step.”

If you don’t have a printer, LaRose said voters can write out a request for a ballot and mail it to their county board. The request needs to list a person’s full name, date of birth, full address including county, either the driver’s license number or last four digit of your Social Security number, write: “I’m a qualified elector and I’m requesting an absentee ballot for the 3/17/2020 Ohio primary.” Voters also need to specify if they want a Democratic, Republican, Libertarian or issues only ballot (choose only one), and sign and date the request. LaRose also suggest people include their phone number and email address.

Requests by mail to obtain absentee ballots require voters to use their own postage if sending it by mail.

The actual ballots will arrive with postage-paid envelopes to return.

All ballots must be postmarked by April 27 and have to arrive no later than May 8 at county boards of elections to be counted. They can also be dropped in the boxes outside county board of elections by 7:30 p.m. April 28.

The Mahoning County Board of Elections address is 345 Oak Hill Ave., Suite 101, Youngstown, OH 44502.

The Trumbull County Board of Elections is located at 2947 Youngstown Road SE, Warren, OH 44484.

Meanwhile, some voting-rights groups filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the state contending the state timeline is too fast and that the mail process will prevent thousands of eligible citizens from casting ballots. The lawsuit also seeks to allow people to vote at county boards of elections who don’t receive ballots on time and for the primary to be held at a later date than April 28.

COUNTING VOTES

Counting the results on April 28 shouldn’t take too long, McCabe said.

Boards of elections, as they’ve done in the past, will open ballots a few days before the primary and flatten them to prepare them for a count that starts at 7:30 p.m. April 28, he said.

“We process them early, but we never tabulate them,” McCabe said.

Boards of elections have until May 19 to certify the results of the primary.

Before the primary was postponed, the Trumbull board had received about 9,000 early votes, Penrose said.

“We expect to send out 50,000 more absentee ballots,” she said.

Penrose expects turnout to be between 45 percent and 50 percent.

The Mahoning County board had about 14,000 early votes before the primary was postponed, McCabe said.

He expects turnout to be between 30 percent and 35 percent.

“But this is uncharted territory,” McCabe said. “These are unusual circumstances.”

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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