Ohio’s chief elections officer proudly hails a new program under which every registered voter will receive an absentee ballot application as a step that will “turn their kitchen table into a voting booth” in this fall’s presidential election. Now all voters have to do is make sure that their ballots don’t end up – to stick with Secretary of State Jon Husted’s analogy – going down the electoral garbage disposal. Husted’s plan marks the first time in Ohio history that all of the state’s nearly 8 million registered voters will receive absentee applications. But as is often the case in politics, it has drawn both widespread, bipartisan praise over further easing of the voting process and concerns over potential downsides. Arguably the biggest worry is that voters who request an absentee ballot but later change their minds and decide to vote at the polls on Election Day will be forced to cast a provisional ballot. In most statewide elections, relatively minor procedural missteps by poll workers or voters routinely disqualify tens of thousands of provisional votes.
“It’s going to be easier than ever to vote,” said Amy Searcy, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. “But it’s also going to be easier for more people to maybe run into a problem.” Election officials anticipate that millions more absentee ballot applications being mailed out statewide – two years ago, there were only 1.1 million absentee requests throughout Ohio – will produce more potentially problematic provisional ballots.
There is, however, a simple way to avoid that pitfall. “If you request an absentee ballot, use it,” said Tim Burke, chairman of both the county elections board and the Hamilton County Democratic Party. “Then you don’t have to worry about any provisional problems,” Burke said.