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Cuyahoga County Election Officials Prepare For In-person Voting In November

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on Tuesday certified the results of its primary election which concluded on April 28. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Notice of closed election site

Cuyahoga County election officials are considering changes in preparation for the November general election, but much is unknown until the secretary of state issues instructions.

According to Tony Perlatti, director of the county’s board of elections, they are expecting at this point to hold in-person voting on Election Day in November with six-foot spacing between voting booths.

“It’s going to be an interesting phenomenon across the county as we try to apply these standards and what it does to the number of poll locations or the wait time for poll places,” Perlatti said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

In-person voting was canceled in the most recent election, originally scheduled for March 17, and absentee voting was extended to April 28.

Officials are hoping to hear from the secretary of state sometime in June on rules for the general election, but the state legislature will have to pass legislation to make changes to rules including deadlines for absentee voting.

“The association [of county election officials] and the secretary of state’s office both keep repeating that we’ve got to have it soon, to the legislature, you’ve got to come up with something in June,” Perlatti said. “They’re hearing that, whether or not they want to act on it will be determined.”

He added there is also consensus among county election officials on loosening rules for poll workers on Election Day.

“We were all in agreement of letting 17-year-olds who are juniors work the polls and individuals who have felonies that were over ten years [ago] and not related to the election business,” Perlatti said.

One of the challenges that made holding in-person voting on March 17 difficult was finding enough poll workers, who are often senior citizens and especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

At Monday’s meeting, the board also certified results from the primary. Controversial special rules were put in place when in-person voting was canceled and absentee voting was extended.

Voters had to request an absentee ballot by April 25 for the April 28 election. Any voter who requested a ballot by the deadline but didn’t receive it from the county could submit a provisional ballot in-person.

According to official results, those special rules led to a higher rate of rejected provisional ballots than normal – about 33 percent. Half of those were rejected because a ballot was submitted in person but the request wasn’t received by April 25.

By comparison, in the 2016 presidential primary, 19 percent of the provisionals submitted were rejected. That year, failing to register was the main reason for rejections.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.