Elections officials in Cuyahoga County have discovered that 250 invalidated votes should have counted in Ohio’s last statewide election. But the discovery, which other counties can duplicate for about $500, will not change how Ohio runs the upcoming presidential election without action from state leaders. In a post-election analysis, Sean Webster of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections reviewed roughly 1,500 absentee ballots that arrived after the polls closed on Nov. 2. About 900 lacked postmarks, which would clearly state when the ballots were mailed. Another 563 were postmarked too late. All were tossed out. Statewide, about half of 7,244 late-arriving ballots lacked postmarks. “Proportionally,” Webster said of the same issue in Summit County, “we had significantly fewer ballots that needed thrown out. And we think that’s because we use a smaller envelope.”
The key, Webster said, is how postal service machines handle the mail. The smaller envelopes, not used in Summit County or recommended by the Ohio secretary of state, are more likely to be given a postmark. And even if they miss a postmark, Webster found that 90 percent of the letter-sized envelopes that carried the late absentee ballots received a fluorescent orange bar code.
With a $500 scanner and about eight hours of labor, the board of elections in downtown Cleveland was able to decipher from the timestamp encrypted in the bar code that 250 late ballots (about 17 percent of the total) were actually received by mail carriers before the deadline.