The Athens County Board of Elections has faced unprecedented challenges at their office after the coronavirus pandemic altered the procedures for the Ohio primary.
Ohio’s March 17 primary election was suspended until June 2, and board of elections offices across the state were given a directive by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose explaining what offices should do moving forward.
Now, however, the election will conclude on April 28.
Athens County Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey said the date was moved up after a vote from the Ohio legislature.
Quivey also said the Board of Elections has received a lot of questions about the true date of the primary. She said the date of March 17 has remained the same, and the primary is now simply active for a longer time period.
“All they’ve done is expand that primary to April 28, because that gave more people the opportunity to vote absentee,” Quivey said. “And that's that period where they're giving everybody that would have voted in-person at the polls the opportunity to vote absentee because there will be no polling locations open. This is going to be an all-mail election.”
To vote through an absentee ballot, Athens voters can apply for a ballot on the Board of Elections’ website. On Monday alone, Quivey said the office received over 700 absentee ballot applications.
The Board of Elections has changed its regular procedures to deal with the influx of absentee ballots. The office has called in its full staff of seven employees and has dedicated teams working through the absentee ballot applications and sending ballots back to the post office, Quivey said. Once the office receives official ballots, they are locked in a double-secured room and filed in precinct order.
None of the ballots have been taken out yet, Quivey said. Ballots cannot be tabulated until April 28 after 7:30 p.m.
“That evening after 7:30 … everything will be counted up and it will be very fast and they'll have results,” Quivey said. “But we're keeping track of everything that we have, everything we do, and we've always done that.”
Even with a full staff on board, the coronavirus is posing other difficulties for the office. The Board of Elections has been locked down and no in-person activity is permitted. As a result, voters can mail in their absentee voter applications, fill out a form in the office’s lobby next door or put their application in the building’s dropbox.
Without being able to seek guidance in person, Quivey said more people have been calling the Board of Elections.
“Our phones ring from the time we come in until we leave, and it’s usually people wanting to request absentee applications so that they can receive a ballot,” Quivey said.
While Ohio legislators voted for the election to end in the coming weeks, not all Ohio officials agree. Secretary LaRose has recommended for the Ohio General Assembly to extend the election through passage of the Ohio Voters First Act. The act would suspend the election until June 2 at the earliest, and authorize LaRose to produce and mail a postage-paid absentee ballot request form to every eligible Ohio voter who has not yet voted.
“Despite speculation to the contrary, June 2 is the earliest date by which (the primary) can be done due to the logistical realities of conducting a vote-by-mail election, the ever-evolving health realities of protecting against the spread of Coronavirus and the sacred responsibility we have as public officials to preserve the integrity of our election,” LaRose said in a letter to the Ohio General Assembly.
Quivey said the passage of such an act would elicit mixed effects, as it could benefit election offices on tight timeframes but further confuse voters.
Grant Perry, a freshman studying political science and environmental geography, said the act could be a beneficial way to spark political engagement.
“If you're sending a ballot to everyone's house, it is going to be a lot easier to get them to participate because then it's already in their hand and all they have to do is fill it out,” he said.
With so much happening, Quivey said she’s unsure of how voter turnout will look.
“I hope this doesn't discourage people from voting because we have an excellent staff here. We're on top of it,” she said. “And you know, everything is running very smoothly for what we've been handed.”