For nearly two years, election officials in Northeast Ohio have known that the state’s failure to keep pace with modernization at the U.S. Post Office could result in absentee ballots getting tossed, even if voters followed the rules perfectly. Beacon Journal interviews last week revealed that officials in at least Summit, Stark and Portage counties were aware in 2014 that a problem loomed as the U.S. Postal Service increasingly used bar codes to process mail and did not print the time and date across the postage stamp. State law continues to require an old-fashioned postmark, and as a result last year, nearly 1,800 absentee ballots were rejected in Summit and Cuyahoga counties alone. Now, with Ohioans only weeks away from voting in a highly charged presidential primary — and their governor among the contenders — the issue remains unresolved and there is no guarantee that ballots dropped in the mailbox will get counted.
Summit County elections officials have documented missing postmarks for six straight years. But the state had done little to determine the scope of the problem until December when it conducted a survey and found the problem in 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
In Cuyahoga County last week, officials disclosed that they were able for the first time to read the barcode postmark on discarded ballots from last November; 250 probably should have been counted. There were 900 discarded in all because of no postmark. That’s for just one county, in an off-year election.
The Summit County Board of Elections did not count 861 ballots for lack of a legal postmark — many with barcodes — so it does not know how many may have been inappropriately disqualified. Disproportionate numbers were tossed bearing addresses in Clinton, Twinsburg, Boston Heights, Peninsula, Northfield and Hudson.