Instead of automatically tossing out more than 1,000 absentee ballots in March, innovation and a last-minute directive from state officials allowed Cleveland poll workers to count dozens of votes. After a spike last fall in absentee ballots lacking postmarks, state and county election officials began exploring ways to reduce the number of mail-in ballots that arrive after the election without proof that they were mailed out on time. Ballots that arrive within 10 days of an election may be counted if mailed before the election. The issue, locally, was big. Nearly 900 late ballots in Summit County lacked the sufficient postmark to determine the time of mailing. All were discounted, automatically. Cuyahoga County, which also saw a surge in troublesome ballots, took the lead in researching an alternative solution.
On the envelopes that carried the discounted ballots, election officials found no postmark but discovered a fluorescent orange bar code used internally by the U.S. Post Office to sort, date and apply postage. With the proper equipment, reading the bar code could help reduce the number of absentee ballots increasingly tossed out each year, reaching an alarmingly high number last year after cutbacks and consolidations forced the U.S. Post Office to double its guaranteed delivery time and sort local mail in Cleveland instead of Akron.
So, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections approved a $550 expenditure to acquire a machine capable of deciphering the orange bar codes. After feeding discounted absentee ballot letters from the fall through the scanner, Cuyahoga County elections director Pat McDonald shared his findings with Secretary of State Jon Husted, who consulted postal officials before loosening voting rules to accept the bar codes.
Today, every county in Ohio must use a scanner.