Cuyahoga County Sees Early Wave Of Absentee Ballot Requests

A U.S. Postal Service letter carrier drives through Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood in May. More voters appear to be readying to vote absentee in the 2020 general election.
A U.S. Postal Service letter carrier drives through Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood in May. More voters appear to be readying to vote absentee in the 2020 general election. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Listen. Engage. Vote 2020

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has already received a surge of absentee ballot applications for the Nov. 3 election, as more voters than usual move to make their decisions remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

As of last week, the board had processed 40,000 ballot applications, Director Anthony Perlatti told ideastream Monday.

“That’s probably almost 40,000 applications ahead of where we were four years ago, so there’s definitely an increased interest in vote-by-mail,” he said. “And that’s a good thing, because we want these things now. We want to take advantage of the time we have.”

Absentee ballot applications must be received by Ohio election boards by noon Oct. 31. But Perlatti and other election officials have urged voters to request ballots as soon as possible if they plan to vote absentee, allowing for ample time to process applications and mail ballots.

The U.S. Postal Service has warned Ohio and other states that it cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballots mailed at the last minute.

The Cuyahoga County board is adding two high-speed scanners to the five alredy in its arsenal to handle the anticipated increase in absentee ballots, Perlatti said.

“We believe that we could probably see a million sheets of paper, we could potentially have 500,000 ballots come through,” he said.

Ohio voters can return absentee ballots by mail or submit them in person at county election boards’ drop boxes, though each county only has one such box. Voters can also cast ballots early in person at county boards.

Boards begin mailing absentee ballots Oct. 6 to domestic voters who have requested them. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by the appropriate boards of elections within 10 days of the election. The drop box deadline is 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

For voters who plan to cast ballots in person, Cuyahoga County BOE staff are drawing up plans for ensuring physical distancing at polling places, Perlatti said. Voting booths will be at least 6 feet apart, he said.

Coronavirus precaution measures may require reducing the number of booths at some locations, he said, but the board won’t cut the number of booths by more than 30 percent. That could mean moving or rearranging some polling places, he said. The board will finalize the list of polling places by the end of August.

Social distancing measures could slow down the in-person voting process, just as they do with grocery shopping and other everyday activities, Perlatti said.

“If people go to the polls on Election Day, they should anticipate that there may be a longer wait time than they’ve seen in the past,” he said. “Because that’s what happens in a socially distant environment.”

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