Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said Monday that he would like to continue a successful vote-by-mail program — even after the state’s top elections official ordered boards of elections to stop the mass mailings.
FitzGerald said he is reviewing whether the county can pay for a mass-mailing of absentee voter applications that, until now, had been handled by the county’s board of elections. His comments came just as Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted sent a directive that prohibited the boards from sending the applications to all registered voters in a county — a practice Cuyahoga County has done since 2006.
A controversial state law goes into effect in about six weeks that also prevents county boards of elections from paying return postage on the applications and paying postage for the completed ballots. What FitzGerald and other proponents of the vote-by-mail plan are hoping for is that another agency can handle the mailings.
After learning of Husted’s directive about 4:35 p.m., FitzGerald said: “We’ll review it and make sure there’s no prohibition of other units of government doing a mailing. We’re going to be looking to see if we can do it.”
FitzGerald said he is having the county’s printing office look into the costs. Elections board records show it costs about $860,000 for the ballot and application printing, postage and processing. If the county printing office can do the work, the move would need the county council’s approval.
Several hours before FitzGerald’s statements, the Cuyahoga County elections board voted along partisan lines, with Democrats voting to continue the program and Republicans opposing. The 2-2 vote meant Husted, a Republican, would be forced to break the tie. Last week, Hamilton County’s Board of Elections also were split along party lines over a similar plan involving absentee voting.
The issue would have a huge effect in Cuyahoga County, where 47 percent of the more than 416,000 people who voted in the 2010 general election cast absentee ballots. Norman Robbins of the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates said he fears those who have voted by mail for years will be confused and won’t learn about the new law until it is too late.