ASHLAND — The Ashland County Board of Elections received 25 additional absentee ballots Monday that will count toward this election’s final tally.
The mailed absentee ballots had to be post-marked by Nov. 6 and received by Monday in order to count, said Amanda Jones, the office’s director.
Those ballots will not be counted until Nov. 20, when the board of elections plans to meet in order to certify the results of the election.
Jones said none of Monday’s absentee ballots came from the village of Mifflin, where voters are waiting to find out who their mayor will be. Three of the absentee ballots came from Perrysville, where the race for mayor is tied between Steve Goines and Bob Zakutni.
There are still 115 absentee ballots outstanding, Jones said. But those voters could have voted in person.
Problems with the mail
The influx of mailed absentee ballots came despite issues experienced with the U.S. Postal Service during this year’s election cycle.
Jones said mail delivery this election cycle has been the slowest she’s ever seen. The problems led her to file a complaint with electionmail.org, a project of Democracy Works, which aims to be a resource to election administrators.
The nonprofit allows election officials from across the nation to file complaints using an online form. The complaints then get filed with the USPS.
Jones did not receive a receipt of the complaint she filed, so Ashland Source was unable to independently verify the complaint. This publication filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the complaint with the USPS and has yet to receive a response.
Jones, however, remembers details about the incidents which prompted the complaint.
One woman, she said, was in California and trying to vote by mail via an absentee ballot. In order to do that, she had to fill out an application and send it, by USPS, to the board of elections office in Ashland by Oct. 31.
Jones said the woman filled out the application and paid extra to have it delivered on time.
“We didn’t receive it until 2 p.m. (on Nov. 8). The day after. And she paid $28 to the postal service to have it here by Tuesday. It didn’t happen,” Jones said.
That woman, according to state election data, did not vote any other way.
There are other examples of discrepancies.
Jones said a woman in Loudonville also sent an absentee ballot application that has yet to be delivered. Fortunately, that person was able to vote in person.
Another person asked the board of elections to send her an absentee ballot application. She didn’t get it. Jones said the board does not track when the office mails out applications, so that instance could have been an error made by the office, not the postal service.
USPS, in a statement emailed to Ashland Source, said it is aware of the issues in Ashland County.
“The U.S. Postal Service is committed to the timely and secure delivery of election mail. Postal management is working with the Ashland County Board of Elections to resolve their concerns,” said Naddia Dhalai, a USPS spokeswoman.
Is it an isolated issue?
Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Secretary of State, said she hadn’t heard of boards of elections having issues getting absentee ballots out to voters on time.
“But we have had some issues across the state with USPS,” she said.
Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO), said his organization’s members experienced similar issues.
“I received word from the League of Women Voters on the evening of the election that they had heard from about 24 students concerning undelivered ballots,” he said in an email. “They noted issues in Franklin, Cuyahoga and Lucas counties.”
He did not hear about issues in Ashland County and emphasized the fact that “Ohio law accounts for the possibility that a voter may not receive their ballot in a timely manner and allows voters to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day.”
“In the case that the voter’s absentee ballot is not received by the board of elections, that provisional ballot may count,” Ockerman said.
Ockerman pointed to the OAEO’s role in lobbying state legislators to pass a law that allows more time for boards of election and USPS to process absentee requests and get ballots delivered to voters in a timely fashion.
The law, passed earlier this year, set the due date for absentee ballot applications for Oct. 31, along with a slew of other changes including stricter photo ID requirements at the polls.
The Ashland County Board of Elections received 5,482 requests for absentee ballots, records show. Of that number, 5,457 absentee ballots were sent.
The difference of 25, Jones said, reflect instances where the voter moved or provided an incorrect address. Some of them, she said, had clerical errors such as a missing signature.
“When we receive one that is missing information, we send a letter or call them. So some of them could have voted provisionally,” she said.
But, again, provisional ballots — and absentee ballots — won’t be counted until Nov. 20.