by Allyson Smith
The Ohio primary election, which was originally scheduled for March 17, was extended to April 28. Here is everything you need to know about making sure your voice is heard in the primary election.
First, you must be registered to vote. The deadline for voter registration is 30 days prior to an election and was not extended. Therefore, if you did not already register, you cannot vote in the primary election (but be sure to register for the Nov. 3 general election before Oct. 5!)
Requesting your ballot
Next, you need to request a mail-in ballot.
The first option is: Fill out this request form, download it, print it, and mail it to the Summit County Board of Elections, which is located at 470 Grant St. Akron, OH 44311. You can also drop it off in person.
Second, you can call the Summit County Board of Elections at 330-643-5200 and ask them to mail you an absentee ballot.
The third option is to make your own absentee ballot request. On a blank sheet of paper, write, “I’m a qualified elector and I’m requesting an absentee ballot for the March 17th Ohio Primary.” Also include:
- Your full name
- Date of birth
- Address at which you are registered to vote
- Mailing address (if different from your registration address)
- Any one of the following: your Ohio driver’s license number, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or a copy of an acceptable form of ID.
Indicate the type of ballot you want — Democratic, Libertarian, Republican, or issue-only — then sign and date the letter and mail it to the Summit County Board of Elections at 470 Grant St. Akron, OH 44311. You can also drop it off in person.
Absentee ballot requests must reach the Board of Elections by noon on Saturday, April 25, 2020.
Casting your vote
Once the Board of Elections receives your request form, they will mail you your ballot. Complete it at home.
You can either mail your completed ballot back to the Board of Elections or return it in person. The Summit County Board of Elections has a ballot drop box outside the front door of the office, and a relative is allowed to deliver your ballot to the board of elections for you.
If you mail your ballot, it must be postmarked on or before April 27.
Voters have until 7:30 pm on April 28 to return ballots in person.
The Summit County Early Vote Center, located at 500 Grant St. in Akron, will be open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm on April 28. In-person voting is limited to voters who do not have access to mail and voters with disabilities who wish to use a direct recording electronic voting machine or an accessible marking device.
- Read More: Now more than ever, your voice and your vote count
- How to vote in the Ohio primary and keep up with local politics during COVID-19
Voters with disabilities
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an Ohio voter with a qualifying disability is eligible to request an accessible absentee ballot. The “remote ballot marking system” allows voters to receive the ballot in an accessible format and on any device that connects to the internet. This allows voters to read and mark the ballot privately, independently, and with the use of assistive technology. Once the ballot is marked, it must be printed and returned to the county board of elections.
To request to use the accessible absentee voting system, voters must submit Form 11-G or a written application by April 25 at noon. Once the board receives the application, they will email a link to access and mark the ballot along with the identification envelope and statement of voter, instructions for using the system, and any additional instructions, if necessary. Instructions will also be sent via U.S. Mail.
According to the Ohio Secretary of State, “a voter who is confined due to personal illness, disability, or infirmity and who submits an application to their county board of election may be able to have a ballot delivered to their place of confinement.” Call the Summit County Board of Elections at 330-643-5200.
Other frequently asked questions and contact information can be found here.
‘Barriers to participation’
We also spoke with Jackie Derrow, president of the League of Women Voters of the Akron Area, about how to navigate election confusion in both the primary and general elections.
Allyson Smith: How do you think the changes in this year’s primary election will affect voter turnout? Do you think there will be more or less people participating, or is there no way to know yet?
Jackie Derrow: Ohioans learned early in the morning of March 17, election day, that due to the coronavirus pandemic there would be no in-person voting. Typically, 85% of Ohioans vote at the polls, so this abrupt change, while the right thing to do from a public health perspective, disrupted normal voting behavior.
As the situation emerged, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and other good government groups lobbied the legislature to do three things: 1) to lengthen the absentee voter period to a date in mid-May. This would give the 88 Boards of Election around the state time to prepare for the unforeseen tide of absentee voting requests; 2) to allocate monies to educate the public about the changes and steps on how to vote; and 3) to open up voter registration during the period 30 days in advance of the election as required under the Ohio Constitution. The Legislature opted for extending absentee voting to April 28 and funding the printing and mailing of a postcard announcing the changes that arrived in most Summit County mailboxes on April 8.
The traditional media and community groups have been active in reaching out to potential voters in the absence of a larger education campaign, but we believe many people have either not received the message or haven’t acted on it. One of the barriers to participation is that it’s a two-step process: Summit County voters must either download an absentee ballot request from summitcountyboe.gov or call the Board of Elections at 330.643.5200 for an absentee ballot form, complete it and mail it in. If you don’t have stamps or an envelope, that’s a problem. After returning the form, several days will pass until you receive your postage pre-paid ballot. Ballots must be completed and postmarked by April 27 if mailed or dropped off at the Board of Elections by 7:30pm, April 28.
Ballots won’t be counted until after the election is closed on the 28th. We won’t know about voter participation until then.
AS: Why is it important to still vote in the primary election?
JD: First, it’s important that every voter’s voice is heard. Second, in addition to the presidential primary, there are many other candidates running for office — from U.S. congressional candidates to state legislative, county and judicial races. Also there are important issues on the ballot. If you don’t vote, others will make decisions that will impact you. One vote really does make a difference.
AS: What do you suggest for voters who might feel hopeless, helpless, or confused right now? Do you have any advice on how to navigate election AND pandemic news?
JD: Ohioans who are worried about how they’re going to feed their families, stay healthy and pay their rent will naturally prioritize meeting those needs. If the voting process were easier, we would expect more voter participation.
AS: What else can people do to make their voices heard right now?
JD: Voters should be contacting their U.S. congressional representatives now to assure sufficient funding is allocated to the states to prepare for the November general election.
AS: How do you think this could impact voting processes for the general election in November?
JD: We can’t predict the progress of the virus and experts tell us that a vaccine won’t be ready for a year. This will pose new challenges for voting rights groups like the League to register voters, an activity that primarily occurs in settings where people congregate during the summer and fall. While we address that challenge, we will continue to advocate for Senate Bill 186, the Voter Verification and Registration Program co-sponsored by Senator Vernon Sykes (D, Akron) and Nathan Manning (R, North Ridgeville) in the Ohio Senate. The bill would create an automated, electronic process that would register eligible Ohioans to vote or update their voter registration when they interact with the BMV unless those persons opt out. This legislation would be a great step forward in making voting more secure and accessible. I expect many non-partisan voting rights groups like the League of Women Voters will be encouraging voters to vote by mail this fall but we will continue to advocate for an approach that doesn’t exclude people from the process.
AS: Is there anything else you think is important to include or you think should be mentioned?
JD: Voters often complain they don’t know enough about the candidates to cast a vote. We hear a lot about the presidential candidates but the information drops off considerably as we get to state, county and judicial races. The League of Women Voters has a solution, VOTE411.org. Interested voters go to the site, select “Find Out What’s on My Ballot,” and type in their address. There they’ll find background information on the candidates and responses to questions posed by the League. All answers are completed by the candidates using a unique password — we do no editing. It’s a very helpful way to make an informed voting choice.
But the main message to Ohioans who intend to vote in the primary is to ACT NOW to obtain your absentee ballot request form. The election is less than two weeks away.