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Q&A: The Naked Ballot And Resolving Other Ohio Voting Irregularities

Cuyahoga County has two drive-up ballot drop-off sites: outside the board of elections building and in the parking lot of Campus International High School. Both are accessible via E. 30th Street in Cleveland. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
A Cuyahoga County board of elections worker collects a ballot through a car window on E. 30th Street in Cleveland.

Updated: 1:00 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020

In Ohio, local elections officials  process absentee ballots as soon as they get them. That offers not only a sense of how many people are voting in person or by mail, but how many ballots have been flagged for errors. ideastream’s Morning Edition host Amy Eddings talked with Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Spokesman Mike West about the process of "curing" irregular ballots.

The board provides, online, a daily update of early in-person and vote-by-mail numbers. It also shows how many ballots have been challenged because of irregularities. What are you seeing so far?

So far, people try to send their ballot back without an ID envelope. And, of course, we can’t accept a ballot without an ID envelope because we have to make sure that the information on the ID envelope matches our records to make the ballot count. So we call that a naked ballot.

Also, some people remove the ballot stub, and so there’s a problem there because we can’t trace it. All of the numbers on the ballot must match what’s on our records, on the stub number. So those are some of the most common problems.

I noticed in the vote-by-mail daily update provided for Sunday that the biggest problem was an invalid ID.

If it doesn’t match what we have on our records, then we contact the voter, and we send them what’s called an 11-S form. And they are able to fill that out and drop it off or mail it to us. And then we can confirm that everything matches and then their ballot will count.

It's very encouraging to see that a lot of people do pay attention to our correspondence and were able to cure their ballot and so that we can count it. Our goal is always to make sure every vote is counted and we do everything possible to make that happen.

I also notice in your daily tally that there’s a lot of problems with people not providing their date of birth.

Yeah, that’s a pretty common one. A lot of people put today’s date on there or whatever date they’re filling it out. And we even have in parentheses, ‘Don’t use today’s date.’ But some people just don’t get that one correct, and then we have to help them cure it. That’s something that we can manage over the phone if we can get ahold of them.

But we don’t wait. If there’s a problem, if they use Track My Ballot, it’ll indicate there’s a problem, and they know that they’re going to be getting something in the mail very quickly to try to fix the problem.

How long do people have to cure their ballots if there’s a problem?

They have until Election Day.

(Editor’s note: According to the instructions on form 11-S, voters have until Tuesday, Nov. 10 — seven days after the election — to drop off their completed forms at the local board of elections. A mailed in form will also be accepted if it’s postmarked by Nov. 10 and received at the board’s office by Nov. 13.)

So your biggest advice right now in these waning days of early voting?

My biggest advice is two things. One, when your ballot arrives in the mail, turn off the TV, turn off your phone, sit down in a quiet place and carefully go over the instructions. And if you do that and you complete everything – fill in all the blanks that you’re supposed to – you’ll have a very smooth voting experience.

And the next piece of advice is, don’t procrastinate. If you get your ballot and you know how you’re going to vote, go ahead and vote your ballot, and either drop it off here at the board of elections or get it to the post office as soon as you can.

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