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Prepare for an unusual primary

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio and several other states are experiencing the most unusual primary election in our lifetime.

With a few exceptions, everyone in Ohio is going to vote by mail or drop off their ballots at county boards of elections.

This has already been a confusing election with the state canceling the March 17 in-person primary late the night before after failing to get a judge to do so. Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, issued an order at the request of Gov. Mike DeWine because of the pandemic.

DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose called for the election to have extended mail voting and for an in-person vote June 2. That was with the assumption the state would return to normal by then and people could go to the polls.

It wasn’t a very good assumption because it also required county boards of elections to get enough people to commit before then to receive updated training and work the polls that day. We all hope life returns to normal well before June 2, but there’s no guarantee that will occur.

The state Legislature voted last week to move the primary to April 28 with no in-person voting except for those with qualifying disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and those without access to the postal system — the latter is primarily the homeless.

As you look around the area, you’d be hard pressed to know there’s an ongoing election. There are barely any yard signs. There’s no political advertising in traditional media and little to no direct mail from candidates.

Three states — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — conduct their elections completely by mail. But the residents there had a lot more advanced warning than what we’re going to experience in Ohio. We were told less than five weeks before the primary election that it would be done virtually by mail.

Also, county boards of elections employees and officials in this state will have to learn on the fly how to process that many mailed-in votes in an exceptionally tight window.

They’ve been fortunate enough the state has had early mail votes for years, but the sheer amount of ballots that will be coming to the boards of elections for this primary is like nothing any of them have seen before.

There’s also the additional strain this is putting on the postal service.

Let’s not forget this is all going on during a pandemic in which people are dying. Many are staying at home, including several who have lost their jobs because of business cutbacks and closures as the economy tanks.

Election officials in Mahoning and Trumbull counties told me they’ve been bombarded with hundreds of telephone calls from voters needing information on how to vote and requesting ballots. There are only a certain amount of telephone lines at county boards so many people have had to be patient at times to get through or likely gave up after a lengthy wait.

It’s a very chaotic system, but the election officials say they’ll make this work.

Because of the short amount of time before the election, the secretary of state’s office won’t be mailing postcards to voters letting them know about the April 28 primary until next week.

Oh, and while the primary date is April 28, your ballot has to be postmarked by April 27 and arrive no later than May 8 at county boards of elections to be counted. So the sooner you get your ballot in – assuming it arrives quickly – the better.

For Mahoning County, this primary isn’t catastrophic as there is little on the ballot for many voters to consider. Turnout is expected to be about 35 percent to 40 percent.

But there’s quite a few races on the ballot in Trumbull County and several voters who’ve never cast ballots by mail will be asked to do it for the first time — and do it quickly.

There is already talk that the November general election could also be done virtually all by mail. Let’s hope for the best.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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