How To Vote In Ohio: A 2020 Explainer

A sign encouraging voting is posted on a tree lawn in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.
A sign encouraging voting is posted on a tree lawn in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Ohioans won’t be able to start voting in the 2020 general election until October, but more than 1 million have already requested absentee ballots, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Election officials are expecting a surge in mail-in votes, as many people opt to avoid casting ballots in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are answers to some basic questions about voting in Ohio – whether you’re planning to make your choice by mail or in person.

Is it too late to register to vote?

The registration deadline for the 2020 general election is Oct. 5. You can register to vote in Ohio – or update your voter address – on the Secretary of State’s website here.

How do I request an absentee ballot?

You’ll need to return a completed request form to your county board of elections. Find your board’s mailing address here

Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office has mailed ballot applications to every registered voter in Ohio. But you can also request an application from your county board of elections. Or you can fill one out here, print it, sign it and mail it in. You might also receive one from a political party, campaign or other group.

The Secretary of State’s Office lists the information it needs from you in your absentee ballot request here.

County boards of elections must receive absentee ballot requests by 12 p.m. on Oct. 31. But don’t wait until then. That deadline is just a few days from Election Day, and it gives county boards very little time to mail a ballot out to you.

When will I get my ballot?

County boards of elections begin mailing absentee ballots Oct. 6 to voters who have requested them. 

Ballots go out earlier to military and overseas voters. County boards must have those ballots ready by Sept. 18.

How do I cast a vote by mail?

Once you mark your ballot, put it back inside the identification envelope and fill in the information requested. Then put that envelope inside the return envelope, make sure the postage is paid and drop it in the mailbox. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2, the day before the election.

LaRose’s office is asking the state Controlling Board Sept. 14 to pay postage for all absentee ballots.

Does the envelope identify my party affiliation?

No.

What if I want to vote early, but not by mail?

If you’ve requested an absentee ballot, but don’t want to mail it back, you can drop off your completed ballot at your county board of elections dropbox instead. The dropbox deadline is 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

If you haven’t requested an absentee ballot, but you still want to vote early, you can do so in person at your board of elections. Early voting begins Oct. 6 and runs through Nov. 2. You can see an early voting schedule here.

But note: If you have requested an absentee ballot, you should vote with that ballot. If you’d prefer to vote early in person, don’t request an absentee ballot ahead of time; you’ll receive a ballot at your county board of elections. If you request an absentee ballot but then decide to vote in person, you will have to cast a provisional ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office.  

What safeguards are there against fraud and other interference?

Ohio requires voters to verify their identities with signatures and a form of ID showing the voter's address. Valid forms of identification include a current Ohio driver's license, another form of Ohio or U.S. government ID, a military ID, a bank statement, utility bill, paycheck or government check. View the full list and descriptions of acceptable ID here

Voters casting ballots by mail must include their driver’s license number or last four digits of their social security number on the identification envelope. Other forms of ID are also acceptable. Check the instructions included with your ballot.

Cases of voter fraud are rare in Ohio. In 2018, LaRose’s office found that 77 noncitizens voted in that year’s elections, and another 277 noncitizens registered to vote but didn’t cast ballots. That’s a small percentage of the 7.6 million registered voters in Ohio that year. Out of almost 14.4 million votes cast in 2012, 2014 and 2016, the Secretary of State’s office found 820 “irregularities” and referred 336 cases for prosecution, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

As for election interference, Ohio has required county boards of elections to improve the security of their computer systems over the past few years. Boards now receive updates on potential cybersecurity threats as part of a program supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This year, the Secretary of State’s office issued a new policy allowing “white hat hackers” to help find weaknesses in election computer systems.

State law probits connecting voting machines to the internet.

How can I see if my ballot arrived at the board of elections?

County election boards allow voters to track absentee ballots online. The ballot tracking tools show the date boards processed absentee applications, the date they mailed ballots out to voters and the date they received a voted absentee ballot. You can find a list of all board websites here.

Can I vote in person on Election Day?

Yes. Be sure to check with your county board of elections to find your polling place. Boards may have moved some polling locations to allow for more social distancing or to protect vulnerable populations.

Voters should wear masks at polling places this year as a COVID-19 precaution, but LaRose has said that Ohioans who refuse to wear masks won’t be denied their right to vote.

They’ll be able to vote on the curb, as are other voters who are physically unable to enter a polling place.

I haven’t voted for a while. How do I know if I’ve been purged from the voter rolls?

You can check here to see if you are currently registered to vote in Ohio.

The Secretary of State’s office is planning to cancel the registrations of inactive voters after the Nov. 3 election. See if your name is on the list here.

You can be restored to active status by voting in the general election, updating or confirming your address with a board of elections or the BMV or engaging in other voter activity.

When will my ballot be counted?

Election staff can begin verifying, processing and scanning absentee ballots as they arrive at county boards, LaRose told reporters this week. Boards tabulate votes and release results after polls close at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Often, absentee votes are the first results reported.

This year, the Secretary of State’s office will report how many absentee ballots remain to be counted throughout the night, LaRose said.

The counting will continue after Election Night, too. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2. But boards will count late-arriving mailed absentee ballots, provided they’re postmarked by Nov. 2 and delivered through the mail no later than Nov. 13.

When are election results finalized?

Boards must complete their official canvass of votes by Nov. 24.

On that date, the vote totals may change from the unofficial count released on Election Night. The official canvass would account for all validly cast ballots, including late-arriving mailed ballots and valid provisional ballots.

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