Dear Secretary LaRose:
We write on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio (“LWVO”), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (“Lawyers’ Committee”), and Dēmos to ask that you issue a directive modifying the State’s election administration rules to increase opportunities for absentee voting in a time where record numbers of the voters seek to vote by mail.
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COVID-19 presents serious risk to people who: are over the age of 60, have underlying health conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease), have weakened immune systems, and who are pregnant. This fact, along with the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Ohio and the nation, have caused panic and chaos. On March 13, the president declared a national emergency and at least 39 states have declared states of emergency. This has resulted in restrictions being placed on large gatherings, requests that people practice social distancing, and changes to election times and procedures. At least two states postponed their primary elections (Louisiana and Georgia) and one other (New York) modified its election administration procedures, in part, related to absentee ballots, by executive order. Conducting elections during a time of a pandemic is unprecedented.
Therefore, we urge your office to take immediate action to ease and modify absentee ballot laws so that thousands of voters are not disenfranchised during Ohio’s March 17, 2020 primary election through no fault of their own. We urge you to use your statutory authority to issue a directive to county boards of election that modifies absentee ballot administration rules so that county boards may accommodate and help thousands of absentee voters who otherwise will not be able to cast a ballot, through no fault of their own. We ask that you issue a temporary directive ordering the county boards of election to do the following:
- Allow any individual designated by the voter (including staff of nursing homes and senior centers if the voter resides in these facilities) to pick up the voter’s absentee ballot and drop the voter’s absentee ballot off at the board of elections by the close of polls on election day;
- Accept absentee ballots postmarked by election day (March 17) and received by the board within 10 days of election day;
- Send two board members (one from each political party) to deliver absentee ballots to any facilities including any public housing facilities that were previously polling sites but were moved in the last week, and return voted absentee ballots to the board of election by the close of election day;
- Extend the absentee ballot request deadline to 3 p.m. on Election Day for those individuals (1) susceptible to COVID-19, (2) whose polling places were moved, and (3) who would be putting themselves at higher risk of contracting the disease by traveling to the polls and standing in lines; and
- Allow any voter or their designee to drop off their absentee ballot at any polling location in the county.
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