Ohio Voter Rights Groups Cheer Early Voting Success, Point To A Few Issues

ballots unloading at Cuyahoga County Board of Election's warehouse
Ballots being unloaded at Cuyahoga County Board of Election's warehouse in Cleveland Nov. 3, 2020. [Jenny Hamel / ideastream]

While votes are still being counted, Tuesday’s election process was mostly a smooth one, according to Ohio voting rights groups.

A few problems were reported to the groups’ voter assistance hotlines – things like delays at polling places, the sometimes poorly executed expansion of curbside voting and scattered incidents of voter intimidation.

But mostly the huge statewide turnout and early voting numbers that dwarfed any previous years were seen as a success.

“We have been working for months and months behind the scenes, and sometimes in the forward, some of the things we saw and perceived would be an issue on Election Day,” said Kayla Griffin, director of the voting advocacy group All Voting is Local’s Ohio campaign, during a call with reporters Wednesday morning.

The group advocated strongly for early voting in the run up to the presidential election, Griffin said. Ohio had a record 3.4 million voters cast ballots by the night before Election Day, with hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots yet to come in.

League of Women Voters of Ohio Executive Director Jen Miller said Wednesday state lawmakers need to allow for more than one early voting site in each county.

“We saw lines all across the state the entire early vote cycle,” Miller said. “It is time to allow counties and maybe even require counties to have multiple early vote centers.”

Before the election, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections moved to allow ballot drop-offs at six libraries around the county during the early voting period. But Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose blocked that decision, citing ongoing lawsuits.

Miller said the state also needs to allow online absentee ballot requests.

“I will happily remind all of you that the League of Women Voters was a champion of the absentee process when it got adopted. However it has not been updated since we initiated the absentee process,” Miller said.

One of the most common calls the groups' hotline received were about problems with curbside voting. In a July directive, LaRose required all precincts make curbside voting to anyone who was not comfortable entering a polling site during the coronavirus pandemic.

At some sites, people were turned away from curbside voting because of a positive coronavirus test, the advocacy organizations on Wednesday’s call said. At others, there weren’t clear instructions posted outside, a step recommended but not required by the LaRose directive.

When these concerns were first raised Tuesday, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Director Anthony Perlatti said the recent expansion of the practice may have led to impatience among voters.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people trying to utilize [curbside voting] but, like you wait in line to go inside, you wait in line for curbside voting. And we don’t give preference over one or the other,” Perlatti said.

Miller said the state also needs to put an end to problems with e-poll books that often lead to delays early on Election Day.

“Because every election morning, we have technical glitches,” Miller said. “Maybe not for an entire county, but we have technical glitches that make lines longer and poll workers’ day start out rough.”

There were problems with e-poll books in Franklin County this year, causing a delay to voting and a switch to paper logs to check in voters.

Rev. Susan Smith said trained members of her clergy peacekeepers group responded to calls from voters about harassment and, in a few cases, people carrying firearms to polling sites.

“People are allowed in Ohio to carry their guns. We trained people not to get all uptight when they saw them,” Smith said. “At the end of the day people were allowed to go in if they were there to vote. There are a couple places where you cannot take them. But we trained people not to, like, freak out.”

The calls were not a sign of systematic voter intimidation, Smith added, but the group has already decided its peacekeeping work will be necessary in future elections.

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