State Representatives Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo), Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown), Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati) and Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) today sent a letter to Secretary of State Frank LaRose urging him to include return postage on absentee ballot application forms that will be mailed to all voters and on absentee ballots that are ultimately mailed to voters who request them. State law prohibits board of elections from making such an expenditure, but the secretary is not similarly barred. The federal CARES Act included funding to the states for unanticipated increased expenses due to COVID-19. The Controlling Board approved on Monday the state’s use of federal CARES Act funding for this year’s election.
See the letter below:
June 17, 2020
Dear Secretary LaRose,
We write to ask that you include return postage on the absentee ballot applications that we authorized you to send to every registered voter in last year’s state budget bill, HB 166, and to use federal CARES Act funding for this purpose. We also ask that your office use federal CARES Act funding to include return postage on the absentee ballots themselves. This is not just a matter of an extra step or the cost of a stamp, although we should always strive to remove even small obstacles from Ohioans’ path to the ballot. This is a matter of health and survival.
Prior to this year and the unprecedented dangers of COVID-19, voting by mail was a convenient option for those who desired to vote that way. Now, it is a matter of protecting one’s health and life. Now, going to the Post Office or the store and picking up stamps is not just an easy errand people run. Now, people are limiting their trips and disinfecting everything they bring into their homes. That’s why we must make absentee voting by mail as appealing and easy to use as possible. That’s why we urge you to ensure that all ballot application forms and ballots are sent with the return postage pre-paid.
The federal CARES Act provides for the expenditure of federal funds granted to Ohio for this purpose. And the payment of return postage for applications and ballots is permitted under state law as well. In your most recent Task Force meeting, you called for suggestions on how to make the application form user-friendly. Including return postage is the single most important thing you can do to maximize Ohioans’ use of this safe voting opportunity.
We would also welcome the opportunity to review the draft ballot application form and other new ballot paperwork that your office may be developing so that we may give feedback on whether our constituents like the forms and how it might be improved. Good design of voting materials should be an interactive process with diverse input.
Secretary LaRose, recall the history that finally spurred Ohio to make the changes that gave us this decade plus of expanded early and mail voting. The election of 2004 was a tragic event in our state. People waited three hours, four hours, eight hours to cast their votes. There weren’t cell phone videos of it then, but many of us were there, helping people in out of the rain and cold, helping them find chairs to rest and weave through church basements for the chance to vote on one of the five machines set up for thousands of people. This scene repeated itself throughout our state. Many people left the lines because they could not wait any longer. They had to tend to jobs, school, children. We must not repeat this awful treatment of Ohioans. We must do everything in our power to not be like Georgia last week or Ohio in 2004.
We owe Ohio voters an extra duty to ease voting this November after the chaotic and disenfranchising primary election with historically low turnout and historically high rejection of ballots. Improving Mail Voting with common sense will take pressure off of Early Voting and Election Day voting. Please let us know soon that you will include return postage with Ohio voters’ ballot applications and ballots as the law allows. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Paula Hicks-Hudson, State Representative, District 44, Chair, House Democratic Caucus COVID-19 Elections Working Group
Michele Lepore-Hagan, State Representative, District 58
Catherine D. Ingram, State Representative, District 32
Bride Rose Sweeney, State Representative, District 14