Early voting is underway in Ohio. To vote by mail, be sure to use the right ballot request form
There are lines reported in some counties for the first day of early voting for the Aug. 8 special election. In Franklin County, voters were queuing up as their early voting center opened in Columbus. And boards of elections have reported an increase in absentee ballot applications compared to the August primary for statehouse seats in 2022.
The only question on this statewide ballot is Issue 1, a constitutional amendment to raise the voter approval threshold for future amendments from a simple majority to 60%.
Ohio voters who want to cast ballots from home have to send in absentee ballot applications. Board of elections must receive those applications by 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 1. But there’s a change in what voters have to do to get those absentee ballots.
Political parties and issues groups have long mailed out absentee ballot applications to encourage early voting. That is, until lawmakers passed House Bill 458 in December. Now, residents must use a specific absentee ballot application form.
HB 458 also requires voters to show photo ID, and it limits the use of secure ballot drop boxes.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said he didn’t ask his fellow Republicans in the legislature to require only the absentee ballot application from his office be used, but it’s the law now.
"They're the legislative branch, I'm the executive branch. We carry out what they write," LaRose said. “They put in there a provision that said you can only use the specific prescribed form from the secretary of state's office."
The form can be downloaded from the secretary of state's website. It has to be printed out and mailed in. Then, the absentee ballot will be mailed out.
The law was in effect for the May primary but didn't affect as many voters because it wasn't a statewide election.
Groups that provide those ballot request applications are free to continue to do so, but, LaRose said, they must use only the form from his office.
"There was an example recently where a newspaper had printed the old form," LaRose said. "Now we've distributed the new form to the Ohio Newspaper Association and said, 'Hey, get these out to your members because this is the approved form.'"
Only about 30 people returned the wrong form from the Cleveland Jewish News, LaRose said, and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has been ordered to contact those voters.
The pro-Issue 1 campaign, Protect Ohio's Constitution, also sent the wrong form on mailers arriving this week.
Republicans have predicted for months that because of attention and interest in Issue 1, turnout for this Aug. 8 election would be larger than the 7.9% for last year's primary. But this weekend LaRose said he "wouldn't be surprised" if turnout for this election was similar to what it was last August.
Ohioans turning in absentee ballots in person must return them to their county board of elections by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Aug. 8. Mailed-in ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 7 and arrive by Aug. 12.
The last day voters can cast ballots in person at their county's early voting center is Aug. 6. The weekend before the election, Aug. 5-6, is the only weekend of early in-person voting.
Polls will be open on Election Day from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.