Ohio’s top election official and the U.S. Postal Service are reporting a couple of hiccups with “minimal impact” as some voters try to request absentee ballots for the midterm election.
In the past month, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted — through a regular contract with a private printing company — mailed all 7,989,252 registered Ohio voters a form to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 6 election. The applications came with a return envelope addressed to each voter’s local board of elections.
Darcy Angell of Twinsburg wasted no time. With a disability that makes it hard to get around, Angell filled out the forms for herself and her husband then flipped up the flag on her mailbox on Sept. 11.
One envelope came back with her postage stamp canceled. Puzzled, Angell called her local post office, which reportedly told her that a stack of 20 letters, just like hers, had been collected that day after mail sorting machines spit them out into a return-to-sender bin.
The post office has resorted to picking the rejected mail out of the reject bin and taking it directly to local election offices. Angell was told to hand her rejected ballot request to the next mail carrier she sees. “For a lot of people like myself who are disabled, that’s an extra challenge,” she said. “I’d like to see [the public and election officials] be made aware of the issue."
Officials at the Summit County Board of Elections were unaware of the problem. Husted’s office has worked with postal carriers to remedy any issues as local election officials report no complaints.
For voters who don’t want to miss out on the chance to cast the first early ballot by mail on Oct. 10, the only option is to try again. “What I did was call the board of elections and put in another request for an absentee ballot form,” Angell said. “Other people who requested absentee ballots [and got them back] may want to consider doing that, too.”
David Van Allen with the U.S. Postal Service in Cleveland, where Summit County’s mail is routed, said: “We’re aware of the issue. We’re working closely with the Secretary of State’s Office and capturing many of those pieces [of returned mail] internally and getting them to the board of elections offices.”
“If you get a return, all you need to do is hand it to a clerk at the post office, no additional postage required. They can hand it to the carrier,” Van Allen said. Reported cases of rejected letters have “been very minimal, but there are a few,” he added.
“I wish they would tell us so that we could look into it,” said Paula Sauter, deputy director of the Summit County Board of Elections. Sauter said her office has received 23,000 completed requests for absentee ballots and no complaints, so far.
“This is minimal impact,” said Sam Rossi, a spokesman for Husted. “There were almost 8 million pieces of mail sent out.”
In Mahoning County, Rossi said local election officials messed up a single digit on the ZIP codes, resulting in several ballot requests being rejected. That problem, he added, was “resolved quickly.”
“Keep in mind the timing here,” he explained, “early voting and absentee voting does not start until Oct. 10. So there’s plenty of time to request a ballot or contact your county board of elections if you have a question or visit myohiovote.com.”
Van Allen said the issue is that machines are having trouble reading address information through the transparent film on the front of the return envelope provided with the secretary of state’s mailing. Rossi pointed to a letter from the U.S. Postal Service last year that says the same type of mailing material used in the upcoming election was tested and “passed the evaluation.”
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.