Ohio voters have requested by mail nearly 1.4 million absentee ballots, flying by the state’s 2016 mail-voting request totals with seven weeks to go before Election Day.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Tuesday released figures showing 1,382,541 Ohioans had requested absentee ballots be mailed to them, compared to 1,286,430 for all of 2016. Elections officials chalk up the higher and earlier rates of mail voting requests to the coronavirus pandemic, increased promotion by candidates and public officials, and concerns about mail processing times.
In absolute terms, two big counties that Hillary Clinton won are the furthest ahead of their 2016 totals. Franklin County has reported 197,248, or 130% of the 151,928 mail-voting requests they got four years ago. Summit County has reported 95,622 requests, or 155% of the 61,597 mail-voting requests they got in 2016.
But on a percentage basis, the counties furthest ahead of their 2016 numbers mostly are those that went for Trump. Counties that rank highest on a percentage basis are Portage (Trump), 24,585 requests, or 161% of 2016 totals; Athens (Clinton), 6,694 requests, or 149% of 2016; Trumbull (Trump), 29,987 requests, or 145% of 2016, and Wayne (Trump), 12,941 requests, or 143% of 2016.
Cuyahoga County, the most heavily Democratic county in the state, reported receiving 211,742 requests, or 101% of the 208,657 total requests it received in 2016. To try to help cope with the largest number of requests, elections officials tried to set up extra ballot collection sites around the state on Monday. But LaRose blocked the move, telling the county to wait at least until lawsuits challenging LaRose’s single drop box per county order are resolved.
Cuyahoga County had around 13,000 absentee ballot applications at the equivalent time in 2016, according to Dave Wondolowski, a board of elections member. Although mail-voting is way ahead, elections officials are predicting a relatively modest 75% overall turnout for the county, compared to 69% in 2016.
Reported outliers include Mahoning County, which Clinton narrowly won in 2016. The state figures say the county reported receiving 11,062 requests mail-voting requests, compared to 30,311 total in 2016.
The county’s most up-to-date numbers say it’s received 15,529 requests. Joyce Kale-Pesta, the county’s elections director, said elections workers are struggling to keep up with a high volume of mail-voting requests they’re receiving, including sorting through and rejecting duplicate requests likely prompted by a statewide mailing of absentee ballot applications that confused some voters who’d already filed requests.
Kale-Pesta said they have eight postal boxes of ballot applications to process and more are coming in each day.
“We’re just working as fast as we can,” she said.
“Ohioans continue to show incredible confidence in our absentee voting system, and our county boards are well-equipped to handle the surge in requests,” LaRose, a Republican, said in a statement. “Whether voting early in-person, at your polling location on election day, or from the comfort of your own home, Ohioans will have their voice heard this fall.”
LaRose sent absentee ballot applications to all 7.8 million registered voters two weeks ago, something Ohio has done for each even-year election since 2012.
The first round of mail ballots are scheduled to go out to those who requested them on Oct. 6. That’s also when early, in-person voting begins. Ballot applications are legally due the Saturday before the Nov. 3 election, although officials recommend getting them in on Oct. 27 due to mail-transit times.
Voters who receive mailed absentee ballots either must mail them back or deliver them personally to their county board of elections. They must be postmarked by Nov. 2, or physically delivered by the time polls close on Nov. 3 in order to count.
Voters who request mail ballots won’t be able to cast a normal in-person vote on Nov. 3, even if they don’t return them. Instead, they must vote provisionally, which are counted later as elections workers take extra time to verify the voter isn’t voting twice.
Here is a list of all the mail-voting numbers reported Tuesday by the Ohio Secretary of State. It compares the current 2020 requests, the 2016 total mail-ballot requests, and then the 2020 requests as a percentage of the 2016 requests.