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Plan now for November election

We hope life gets back to normal by the November general election, but plans need to be in place now in case it doesn’t.

Regardless of what happens, the reality is a lot of people will be hesitant to stand in line to vote. That means there’s going to be a greater dependence on mail votes for the election headlined by the presidential race.

As we saw during the primary, long-term planning is desperately needed.

The state was fortunate that there wasn’t much on the primary ballot, which caused a low turnout and didn’t put a great strain on county boards of elections though they were stretched thin.

That’s not going to be the case in November. Turnout will be very high, and mistakes, missteps and blunders of this primary cannot be tolerated.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose has already spoken to state legislators to urge preparation now.

But word out of Columbus is the November election is currently not a priority.

That’s understandable to a certain extent during the COVID-19 pandemic with so many people out of work, significant financial struggles and major changes to the way we live our daily lives. But issues with the primary and the need to be prepared for the general election also make voting a priority.

LaRose’s plan would allow online requests for mail ballots, which is something the state should have adopted a while ago.

He also wants ballot requests to include postage-paid envelopes along with the actual ballots. During the primary, LaRose called for that, but the state Legislature chose only to provide postage for the ballots.

LaRose is seeking to move the deadline for requesting a mail ballot from the Saturday before the election to the week before it. This one is a mixed bag as during the April 28 primary the Saturday deadline meant some people didn’t get their ballot in time. On the flip side, an earlier cutoff means some people will be denied the ability to vote by mail if they miss the deadline.

LaRose backs a possible reduction of polling locations with county boards making the final decision. His contention is it will free up resources. But it could lead to voter confusion about where to vote, and it will also pack more people into buildings. The latter conflicts with social distancing and will keep some away who don’t want to be in crowded locations.

One solution offered by some groups is to send every registered voter a ballot by mail.

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, is co-sponsoring a bill to require ballots be mailed to all registered voters with return postage pre-paid and without the added step of having to apply for a ballot first.

“We cannot afford to make mistakes in the 2020 general election,” she said. “It is just too important.”

But with President Donald Trump openly criticizing voting by mail there is going to be great hesitation by the state’s Republican leadership to go to that process.

Officials with the boards of elections in Mahoning and Trumbull counties say if they had more time than they had during the primary they could handle an all-mail election a lot easier than they did during the primary.

Both boards were able to process and count ballots, and provide results by a reasonable time during the April 28 primary. This occurred under challenging conditions and with a confused electorate.

But again turnout was exceptionally low and many board employees were pushed to the point of exhaustion.

A significantly larger number of people are going to come out for the November election and they are going to be much more demanding and less patient.

And what happens if the state goes to an all-mail election in November?

As Thomas McCabe, deputy director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, told me: “Is Mahoning County prepared to vote about 120,000 people by mail? Ohio is geared for voting in-person on Election Day. It’s going to put a strain on all counties and the state. The hope is it’s being discussed now in Columbus that it might happen.”

That definitely is the hope.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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