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Ohio Wraps Up Delayed Primary Election Under Shadow Of Coronavirus

Voters, some wearing masks, wait in line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on Tuesday. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]
Voters, some wearing masks, wait in line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on Tuesday.

Ohioans mailed in ballots, drove them to boards of elections and even cast votes in person while wearing facemasks as the state’s rescheduled primary election concluded Tuesday.

Six weeks after state officials postponed the March 17 primary to avoid spreading the coronavirus, voters arriving at boards of elections were met with temperature checks and workers wearing gloves and masks.

At about 23 percent, Ohio’s voter turnout lagged past presidential primaries. Almost 44 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2016, and nearly 26 percent voted in the 2012 primary.

In rescheduling the primary for April 28, state lawmakers required most Ohioans who wanted to vote to do so by mail. Only a small group of voters—those with disabilities or without addresses—could cast regular ballots in person.

But a number of other Ohioans also lined up in person to cast provisional ballots Tuesday, an option that was available for voters who didn’t receive absentee ballots in time. In Cuyahoga County, 1,015 people showed up to vote provisionally, according to the board of elections. Another 39 people cast regular ballots. 

The U.S. Postal Service agreed to move ballots through the mail more quickly, Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office said last week.

More than 20,000 ballots arrived Tuesday morning at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, which blew past the state’s 10 p.m. deadline for vote totals. Board staff were counting votes until 2 a.m.

Cuyahoga County won a property tax increase for health and human services programs like foster care. Voters approved additional school levies in Lakewood, South Euclid-Lyndhurst and elsewhere around Northeast Ohio. But a levy campaign in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights district came up short, with about 52 percent of voters rejecting the tax increase.  

Now the attention turns to conducting the November elections safely, as state officials orchestrate a gradual reopening of Ohio businesses while encouraging social distancing.

“The situation where votes have been put into, where many have had to choose between their right to vote and their own health is one that no voter should ever be put in again,” Mike Brickner, the Ohio state director for All Voting Is Local, told ideastream.

Brickner said his organization is advocating for an easier vote-by-mail process and safe in-person voting in November.

LaRose told the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau that he supported a bill allowing for online absentee ballot requests.

“I’m very supportive of that, I want to see that get done,” LaRose told OPR. “And I want to see us start picking up the tab on those return ballot postage, make that a postage paid envelope for every Ohioan in every election. And I want to be able to send out those absentee ballot requests to absolutely every Ohioan for November as well.”

Almost 1.8 million people cast ballots in the primary, according to initial results from the Secretary of State’s Office. County boards of elections received an additional 44,368 provisional ballots, and nearly 200,000 absentee ballots remain outstanding.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.