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Guest Column: Showing up at the polls is the surest way to make your vote count this November

August 12, 2020
Scott Wiggam News

Our nation’s 2020 primary season is largely in the books. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many states pushed forward with a mail-only or a primarily mail-in primary election, with the majority of polling places closed in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, Nevada, and others. Ohio was one of the earliest to make these changes. Only now are we fully realizing that the push for mail elections had serious consequences, not just in our state but all over the U.S. These consequences should make us think before we rush to expand these measures again in November. 

Central to the analysis of the primary season is the daunting number of absentee ballots that were either rejected or did not make it to the Board of Elections on time. According to NBC News, Ohio alone rejected 20,000 ballots. California was the worst offender, rejecting over 100,000. If these proportions are repeated in November, we are facing millions of uncounted presidential votes, shaking Americans’ confidence in the certainty of our election results. In a swing state like Ohio, the alarm bells should ring especially loudly: which ballots are counted, and which are not, could decide the outcome in the Electoral College. 

The problem of ballot tardiness becomes a larger problem as more state governments push towards mail in voting and away from the certainty of citizens casting their ballots in person. According to NPR, in the primary elections that have been held so far, 65,000 ballots were rejected for missing their due date, making up about 1% of all ballots in the primary season. To put this in perspective, 1 percent of ballots in Michigan and Wisconsin would have been all it took to swing the election in the other direction: both had margins of victory under 1 percent.

Ohio ballots sent through the mail must be postmarked by the day before Election Day and received by the Board of Elections by 10 days after the election. Sometimes the voter simply misses one or both of these deadlines, but the Post Office is also an imperfect organization for making votes count. In Butler County, hundreds of valid, completed ballots were left behind at a mail processing center and they arrived too late to be counted. Ohio is not alone. In New York’s 12th congressional district, three in ten ballots were thrown out because the Post Office forgot to postmark them

Even without human error, the overwhelming number of ballot request forms and ballots to transport between voters and the Board of Elections saddled the Post Office with delays, and voters who met state deadlines for requesting ballots reported that they never received them. Secretary of State Frank LaRose was forced to open provisional in-person voting places because of how widespread these problems were. Even when voters received their requested ballots on time, problems persisted. A voter in Florida put his ballot in the mail eight days before Election Day, but due to Post Office delays, it did not arrive at the Board of Elections until eight days afterwards. His vote went uncounted. 

It should not be a partisan argument that voting in person is the safest, securest way to cast a ballot, offering much more certainty of making your vote count. In fact, the New York Times featured a lengthy piece in 2012 titled, “Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises,” which summed up “the bipartisan consensus… [on the] myriad reasons that make voting by mail far less reliable than voting in person.” 

Since coronavirus will likely remain a concern in November, Secretaries of State across the U.S. have taken important steps to make the 2020 election the safest, most hygienic election in history. Other states, including Texas and Florida, have detailed election policies including social distancing, face masks and shields for voters and poll workers, curbside voting, gloves, disposable marking devices, and a host of other innovative ideas that make voting safer than standing in line at a grocery store. Ohio’s election officials should follow in those footsteps. 

In a year where confidence and trust in our institutions is critically low, the last thing we need is to inspire any doubt about the legitimacy of our presidential election results. For many Ohio voters, that means protecting our votes from rejection and delay, with as many people who can choosing to vote in person.

-State Representative Scott Wiggam, 1st Ohio House District of Wayne County