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Small changes will make Nov. 3 election much easier

Ohio completed its primary election April 28 in a way no one envisioned, but that was necessitated by the global pandemic.

While it’s obvious no one wanted to change how we run elections in Ohio the day before voting was set to occur, the fact that we responded to the pandemic and did so successfully should, in many ways, be a point of pride for our state.

Tireless and dedicated bipartisan teams of election officials in all 88 counties made Ohio the first state to respond to this pandemic by conducting our election almost entirely by mail. In spite of these challenges, Ohio voters made their voices heard at a rate comparable to the more competitive 2012 presidential primary. This is proof positive that Ohioans take their rights and responsibilities as citizens seriously and will overcome adversity to vote.

Ohio voters overcame challenges to vote, but they shouldn’t have to. It should never be that difficult again.

Each lesson learned from this experience can be overcome with a few small improvements, and a lot of education. While the legislature ultimately enacted a plan different than what I developed with bipartisan election officials, lawmakers should now draw on the expertise of the people on front lines of election administration to prepare for a smoother general election Nov. 3.

That election cannot and will not be postponed, so we must take steps now to ensure Election Day voting, early in-person voting and voting by mail are available, safe and secure.

While more Republicans and Democratic Ohioans have chosen to take advantage of vote-by-mail options over the years, most remain more comfortable with voting in person. For years Ohioans have been able to choose between early voting in person, early voting by mail or voting in person on Election Day. Ohioans like choices, and we must prepare now so they are available in November.

For nearly two decades, Ohio has offered voting by mail. It prohibits ballot harvesting and has common-sense safeguards like maintaining accurate voter rolls and requiring voters to verify their identity when requesting and casting a ballot.

To ensure the integrity of November’s election, there are four priorities that the legislature must immediately address: 1) Allow online requests for a vote-by-mail ballot; 2) Absentee ballot requests with postage-paid envelopes, and postage-paid envelopes for ballots; 3) A realistic timeline for ballots to be delivered to Ohioans; 4) Enhanced election infrastructure and accommodations for in-person voting.

I’ve been an advocate for getting rid of Ohio’s antiquated dead-tree format for requesting vote-by-mail ballots and using technology to allow voters to request their ballot securely online. State Sen. Teresa Gavarone has similar legislation that lawmakers should enact swiftly.

The Legislature unnecessarily added an extra step to the vote-by-mail process by requiring the mailing of an informational postcard to every registered Ohioan instead of an absentee ballot request form with a postage-paid envelope as we recommended. Going forward, registered voters should be sent a ballot request form and a postage-paid return envelope. When you return your ballot, that also should be in a postage-paid envelope.

Third, a surge of election-related mail overwhelmed our U.S. Postal Service in the final days of the election. This led to delays and some individuals not receiving their ballots in time to vote. This happened because the deadline for requesting ballots is only three days before election day. That’s too late and logistically impossible for all the steps necessary to happen and still allow voters to receive their ballots in time to get it returned. I recommend the deadline be one week before election day. This must happen to give voters a fair shot at casting ballots, abide by logistical realities of the mail system and not create unrealistic time expectations to encourage procrastination.

I am committed to providing in-person voting this fall, but that will require a consolidation of polling locations and significant poll worker recruitment efforts, while following necessary health and safety accommodations.

It’s crucial that we learn from the recent experience and make common-sense, informed decisions to assure Ohio is ready for the general election. Voting is not just a right and privilege, it’s a responsibility of citizenship.

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