Local officials answer your questions about mail-in voting: The process and its safety

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Vector illustration of Badge about the USA Presidential Election in 2020

Vector illustration of Badge about the USA Presidential Election in 2020

This article is a collaboration between two Clinton Countians, Democrat Don Spurling and Republican Randy Riley.

Covid-19 has many people considering voting by mail. In recent months, mail-in voting has become a hot-button issue. There have been accusations of rampant voter fraud aimed at mail-in voting.

In an effort to understand how mail-in voting works in Clinton County, we submitted a list of questions to two members of the Clinton County Board of Elections — Steve Fricke (R), Chair, and Ann Reno (D), member — both of whom are longtime board members. Their answers follow below.

Voting regulations are established by the Ohio legislature, currently controlled by Republicans. The Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, (R) is charged with overseeing our elections. Local Boards of Elections work under his supervision and directives.

What is the main responsibility of the Board of Elections?

To ensure fair, open, legal, accurate, reliable and secure elections.

How many board members are there and what is their political affiliation?

There are four board members — two Republican, two Democrat selected by their respective party.

Are all employees required to pass background checks and take an oath of office?

Yes they are.

What is the political persuasion of the Board of Elections employees?

Presently, there are two Republican and two Democrats.

What is universal voting? Is it in effect in Ohio?

In some states, a registered voter is not required to ask for a ballot to vote by mail. A ballot is automatically sent to all registered voters. Ohio does not use this method.

What is “Ballot Harvesting” and is it done in Ohio?

Ballot harvesting is when absentee voting applications are sent out, the person receiving the ballot, don’t vote and turns their ballot in to a third party who picks up their ballot and then asks them to sign, then the third party signs the blank signed ballot and turns it in. This is not done in Ohio.

How often is a Clinton County voter prosecuted for voter fraud?

Very seldom has anyone attempted voter fraud in Clinton County.

Which other government agencies does the board work with to ensure accurate addresses and to protect the integrity of the election process?

Clinton County records are shared with the Secretary of State’s office. Records of individual ‘s registrations are checked by staff, including those from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The county map office assists in locating accurate addresses. The Sheriff’s office patrols polling places.

The election process begins with voter registration. What is the deadline to register and what information is required?

You must include your name, address, phone number, birth date and signature. In 2020, the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election was Oct. 5.

How is the registration information recorded and stored and how is the information used?

Records are in computer file and stored on a computer drive are used during elections to ensure each person voting is the same person we have on file by checking their license or other legal means of identification and by checking their signature on file.

How is it determined a voter receives the correct ballot according to their address?

The county is divided into precincts. Each voter is assigned a ballot according to their address within a precinct. They receive the correct ballot at an in-person voting when they show their address or proper ID to the poll worker who checks their stored information on the electronic poll pad.

If voting by mail, a staff member checks your absentee application information with your information stored on the computer which shows which precinct you are in and which ballot you should receive.

How many ways are there to vote?

You may vote by mail. You may vote early in person by visiting the Board of Elections at 111 S. Nelson Ave., Ste. 4, in Wilmington. Early in-person voting began Oct. 6 and ends Nov. 2.

On Election Day, Nov. 3, you can vote in person at your precinct. Provisional voting is when you have not corrected your change of address which doesn’t match your ID and you are allowed to vote. Your ballot will be counted or not depending on the verification of the reason you voted provisionally and it is determined your ballot may be counted.

Are absentee and vote by mail similar?

Yes, absentee voting may be done by mail or in person at the Board of Elections office.

When does vote by mail begin and end for this election cycle?

Mail-in voting begins Oct. 6 and ends Nov. 2. You can mail your ballot , place your ballot in the drop box located outside the Board of Elections office, or personally hand it to an employee at the Board of Elections.

What type of voter votes by mail and is it beneficial to do so?

Vote by mail is beneficial presently because of Covid-19 for people who do not wish to go to the polling place to avoid being around other people. It is beneficial to many people with disabilities and older people who no longer drive. It is also beneficial to those who may be out of town on Election Day and to those who are hospitalized.

How are the ballots created and how are they checked for accuracy before going to print?

Ballots are created by state statutes. State and local issues, lists of candidates and local government office vacancies are sent to the Secretary of State offices where the language for each position and issue is created.

The language is sent to the local Board of Elections, where it is typed on a ballot with correct spelling, spacing, etc. It is then proof read by board members and numerous staff members. It is then resent to the SOS with any corrections, and then sent to the printer.

Must a ballot meet specific specifications to curtail forgery?

A ballot must meet specific specifications to be run through the voting machines for counting and tabulation.

Is the printing vendor certified by the state?

All voting processes, procedures, election equipment, printing, etc. must be certified.

How does a registered voter get a mail-in ballot?

They must correctly fill out an application for an absentee ballot and send it it to the Board of Elections.

Once a mail-in ballot is returned, how is the identity of the voter determined?

Information and signature on the ID envelope must match the information on file at the BOE. The signatures also must match, as well as birthday and the last four digits of the persons SS number, etc.

Are mail-in ballots counted by postmark date or when received?

Mail-in ballots are time stamped on arrival. If ballots arrive late, they must be postmarked by the date specified by the SOS. If postmarked after the date specified by the SOS, the ballot will not count.

Explain the procedure used when the mail-in ballots are opened and stored.

Ballots are time stamped, sorted by precinct and stored in a secure, dual controlled locked system vault. The vault can only be opened by the Director and the Deputy Director together.

How and when are the returned ballots counted?

The day prior to Election Day, they are placed face down, run through official scan equipment and the information stored on a disc. The disc is stored in a container with a numbered lock and ballots are placed in the dual controlled security vault. No results are known until election night when the disc is run through the tabulating equipment.

How does the voting equipment count the votes?

The disc with stored information from mailed-in ballots is run through the election equipment following the running of the discs with generated information from the in-person voting, early voting and in-person voting during early voting and discs voted in precincts on Election Day at polling places. All discs are run on election night. The result is the unofficial count. Provisional ballots are checked for accuracy to ensure no one votes more than once. This process usually takes about two weeks.

Describe the security procedures used to protect the integrity of ballots.

Ballots and discs are stored in a vault room with dual controlled lock system and full 24-hour security monitoring measures such as cameras.

How many drop boxes are available countywide?

There is only one and it is located at the tops of the steps near the BOE entrance. This drop box is monitored 24/7 by security cameras.

Is the voting equipment tested for operational ability and accuracy and who is present during the testing period?

Voting equipment is tested for operational ability prior to every election, and then checked again during the public test prior to the election. The Director, the Deputy Director, all board members and a representative from the SOS office are present during the testing.

Is there anything you would like to add in closing?

We encourage every registered voter to vote. Clinton County has one of the top Directors and Deputy Directors in Ohio. Our staff does excellent work to ensure all registered voters have the opportunity to cast their vote in a safe, secure and accurate election.

Voters are reminded that social distancing is in effect for in-person voting and you are asked to wear your mask to protect our poll workers who will be wearing masks.

Remember, ballots are sent only to named voters at registered addresses, and a registered address and a signature are required to prove a right to vote, therefore there is little chance of voter fraud.

Vector illustration of Badge about the USA Presidential Election in 2020
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