Reader's Forum

Early in-person voting is available from Oct. 6 to Nov. 2. Visit the Athens County Board of Election Office during voting hours at 15 S. Court St., Room 130, Athens OH 45701. Voters need to bring identification. Acceptable IDs are the following: a state-issued photo ID, military ID, utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, driver licenses or state identification cards set to expire on or after March 9, 2020, are automatically extended and remain valid through the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election.

Below are answers to questions many are asking during this time.

How can I request an absentee ballot? 

Visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s website to get the absentee ballot request form or call your local Board of Elections. Submit your request form as soon as possible.

I can’t remember if I requested an absentee ballot, or I requested an absentee ballot, but haven’t received it yet! Help!

Your Board of Elections began mailing absentee ballots on Oct. 6. You can track the status of your absentee ballot request and your ballot at the Ohio Secretary of State’s ballot tracking webpage. Select your county, then enter your name. 

How do I return my absentee ballot? 

You can return your voted absentee ballot to the Board of Elections any time at the dropbox, in person during business hours, or by mail. If you mail your ballot, it must be postmarked no later than Nov. 2 and be received by your BOE by Nov. 13. 

Is absentee voting in Ohio secure and reliable? 

Yes, Ohio has used absentee voting for many years and has a strong system. Voter identification and signature are checked twice during the process. Ohio has an online tracking system, so that voters can see when their ballot has been mailed to them and when their Board of Elections has received their voted ballot. When a BOE receives an absentee ballot they begin processing the ballot: verifying the voter’s identification, etc. On election night, the absentee ballots are among the first votes tabulated.

What if I requested an absentee ballot, but now wish to vote early in-person? 

You may vote early in-person, rather than casting your absentee ballot. In order to do that, go to the Board of Elections office during early-voting hours. The BOE staff will void your absentee ballot and give you another ballot. You must show identification to vote in-person. Vote your new ballot. If you go to vote at the polls on Election Day, the polling locations cannot accept your absentee ballot. Instead, you will need to vote a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots go through extra verification to make sure the voter is eligible and has not already voted. You must show ID to vote with a provisional ballot.

What should I do when I receive my absentee ballot by mail? 

Inspect your ballot and read the directions carefully. Mark your ballot carefully using black or blue ink. Follow all the instructions for completing your ballot forms and sign as needed. Vote your ballot according to the instructions, completely fill in the circles. Fill out all personal information completely. Be sure to include optional contact information so that you can be reached quickly if there are any questions about your ballot. Do not tear off the perforated stub at the bottom of your ballot. Place your ballot in the inner envelope - completing all information and signing where indicated. Put the inner envelope in the outer mailing envelope (even if you are returning it to the drop box). Put only one ballot in each envelope! If you make a mistake while filling out your ballot (and you still have your ballot in-hand), you can call your county board of elections and request a new ballot. Return your ballot either in-person at your local Board of Elections (must be received by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3) or through the Board of Elections secure dropbox (must be received by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3). 

In Athens County there are two drop boxes: one in the parking lot in the rear of the BOE building and one in front of the BOE on Court Street. This is accessible without leaving the car. You can return your own ballot or those of your near relatives (spouses, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, siblings, children, adopted parents and children, step-parents and children, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces). You cannot return ballots for friends, neighbors, co-workers or others. By mail, ballots must be received by 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 or be postmarked no later than Nov. 2 and received no later than Nov. 13. Send it through the U.S. Postal Service.

The preferred method is to purchase a postal label at a USPS customer service window or USPS vending machine, so that it is postmarked. If you use stamps, verify that you have applied enough postage for the weight, take it to the post office and ask that it be postmarked. Using a postage meter or online service will not provide a postmarked date. Track the status of your absentee ballot request and your ballot online.

What ID do I need to bring to Vote In Person (Early or on Election Day)? 

Acceptable identification is a valid Ohio driver’s license or state identification card with current or former address so long as the voter’s present residential address is printed in the official list of registered voters for that precinct; a military identification; a photo identification that was issued by the U.S. government or the State of Ohio, that contains the voter’s name and current address and that has an expiration date that has not passed (passports are not accepted); an original or copy of a current (within the last 12 months): utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck with the voter’s name and current address.

Where’s my polling place? 

To find your polling location, check online or call your county Board of Elections. Your polling location will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. 

Is in-person voting different because of the pandemic? Is it safe to vote on election day? 

The Board of Elections office and all polling locations are instituting Covid safety measures including: social distancing, regular cleaning, and wearing masks. The precautions will be similar to those being used in many spaces, such as grocery stores. The Secretary of State is encouraging all voters to do their part: wear a mask, practice social distancing, and, if needed, vote curbside. In Athens County, some of the safety measures include the following: requiring poll workers to wear masks and regularly clean hands, offering voters hand sanitizer and masks, cleaning any multi-use spaces or devices after each voter, giving each voter their own pen for marking their ballot and making curbside voting available to voters.

What accessible voting options are available? 

In Ohio, every polling location is required to have a voting machine that is accessible to individuals with disabilities. These machines include features like audio ballots, Braille touch pads, large print/zoom features, and height and tilt adjustments on the screens. When you arrive at your polling location, please let the poll workers know if you would like to use the ADA compliant voting machines. Curbside voting was also created for voters who are unable to enter the polling place; however, voters may utilize this service for other reasons (ex., high-risk status for COVID-19 infection) and are not required to show proof of a medical condition. Two precinct election officials from the major political parties will bring a ballot to you. You may sit in your car and vote, or you may vote outside the polling location or Board of Elections office.

How does curbside voting work? 

The voter informs the polling staff that they want to vote curbside, and provides their name and address. Send another person into the polling location or Board of Elections office to request curbside voting, or call the Athens County BOE at 740-592-3201. The election officials will check the Poll Book to verify that the voter is eligible. Two election officials, one Republican and one Democrat, will meet the voter outside or at their car. The election officials check the voter's identification, and have the voter sign a sheet with their name. The election officials take the signature back inside and verify the signature. The election officials bring the voter their ballot and a ballot envelope, and give any necessary instructions. The voter votes their ballot and places it into the ballot envelope. The election officials take the envelope into the polling center and run the ballot through the optical scanner or otherwise place it in the appropriate ballot container.

Can I vote if I have been convicted of a crime? 

A person currently serving time in jail or prison for a felony conviction can neither register to vote nor vote. Additionally, a person who has twice been convicted of a violation of Ohio's elections laws is permanently barred from voting in Ohio. An otherwise qualified person convicted of a misdemeanor may vote, and an otherwise qualified person who had been convicted of a felony may register and vote while on probation or parole, or after completing his or her jail or prison sentence. 

How can I learn about candidates/what’s on my ballot? 

The League of Women Voters Guide is available online at www.Vote411.org. Information is available for many races across the state. In Athens county you will see all candidates and ballot issues. To see your sample ballot from the Athens County Board of Elections, go to the Board of Elections website. Enter your voting address number and street. Click on “Sample Ballots” on the right (you will also see your Ward/Precinct information and polling location.) You can choose “View Ballot” to see the written ballot that you’ll use for voting. You can choose “View Accessible Ballot” to use a screen reader or assistive technology.

Editor's note: Mohlenkamp is the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Athens County.

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