How to make sure your vote counts: Don’t delay, follow instructions

Provide correct identification and contact information

If you want to cast an absentee ballot by mail this year elections experts have this advice: Get it done as soon as possible and follow directions to make sure your vote counts.

“We have a saying, ‘Don’t delay, return that day,’" Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jan Kelly said.

Voter registration ends Oct. 5 and absentee voting begins Oct. 6. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose already mailed absentee ballot applications to all of the state’s 7.8 million registered voters. As of Tuesday nearly 1.4 million people had requested ballots statewide, dwarfing the 524,631 requests received by this time in 2016.

“Ohioans continue to show incredible confidence in our absentee voting system, and our county boards are well-equipped to handle the surge in requests,” LaRose said. “Whether voting early in-person, at your polling location on Election Day, or from the comfort of your own home, Ohioans will have their voice heard this fall.”

Election Day is Nov. 3 and ballots will include candidates running for president, U.S. Congress, the Ohio Legislature, judicial seats and county offices, as well as local tax issues.

Ohioans can vote absentee by mail, hand deliver their absentee ballot to their local county board of elections or they can vote early in person at their local board office Oct. 6 to Nov. 2. Ohioans do not need to specify a reason why they want to vote early.

Elections officials believe many people might choose to vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some also worry that lines on Election Day will be long if counties cannot find enough people willing to serve as poll workers. Ohio’s polls did not open during primary election, which was rescheduled due to the pandemic, so voters cast ballots by mail or in person prior to Election Day.

RELATED VIDEO: Coronavirus safety measures in place for Montgomery Co. early voting center

“I tell people to vote. Do not be afraid to vote because of COVID,” said Susan Hesselgesser, executive director of the Greater Dayton Area League of Women Voters. “If you are young and have time and can stand in line at the polls, do that. If you are sick or older, vote early. Everybody should just vote.”

What safeguards are in place?

The Montgomery County Board of Elections has obtained personal protective equipment that was unavailable in the early weeks of the pandemic, Kelly said, and safety protocols are in place to protect workers and voters during early voting and on Election Day.

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

The security of voting by mail has been in the spotlight after President Donald Trump and some other Republicans have claimed without evidence that voting by mail will be rife with fraud. Cutbacks made this summer at the U.S. Postal Service slowed mail delivery and raised alarms across the country that mailed in ballots would not get to the board of elections on time.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which studies voting issues, say states have multiple safeguards in place, and voter fraud by mail or in person is rare in the U.S.

“Voting by mail is safe. It’s been done for years. I think the worst thing would be for people not to vote because they don’t think it’s safe,” Hesselgesser said.

Safeguards in Ohio include: The voter’s identification information and signature are checked twice during the process, voter rolls are monitored for accuracy, ballots are assigned an identifying number and that stub is not detached from the ballot until the voter identification is verified. Voters also can track the status of their ballots online at

“These requirements and processes, as well as strict laws against voter fraud, have made absentee voting secure in Ohio and instances of voter fraud exceedingly rare,” according to LaRose’s office.

The ballot identification number allows the board to make sure that the ballot the board of elections sent to a voter is the one that is returned, said Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

“We have a database of the 370,000 registered voters in Montgomery County," Harsman said. "We maintain that database and we compare those signatures for that exact reason: to ensure that the ballot that we receive from a voter is their ballot.”

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

Credit: Lynn Hulsey

In August U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he would temporarily suspend some of the USPS cuts and he reassured Congress that the postal service was up to the job. At the same time he urged people to request ballots and cast them as early as possible.

LaRose said he expects the postal service will follow the same protocols used in the spring in Ohio, including making sure that all election mail is processed each day, collecting late arriving ballots and expediting processing on the Saturday prior to Election Day.

RELATED VIDEO: Voter information is verified to prevent absentee ballot fraud

By law absentee applications can be requested as late as Oct. 31, but Kelly and LaRose both said voters who wait that long may not get their ballots through the mail in time to fill them out and return them by the deadline to be counted. They recommend requesting ballots no later than Oct. 27.

Ballots can be hand delivered to the county board of elections office or drop box before polls close at 7:30 p.m. Election Day, but those that are mailed must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and arrive by Nov. 13 to be counted.

It is illegal to fraudulently attempt to vote twice and poll workers will have an electronic record of everyone who has been mailed a ballot, Kelly said.

If a voter has sent in an absentee ballot and the voter can see from tracking it online that it has not arrived by Election Day, that person can legally go to the polls, explain the situation and vote provisionally, Kelly said. The provisional vote will only be counted if the person’s absentee ballot does not arrive with the proper postmark by the deadline.

Common ballot mistakes

Those interviewed emphasized that voters casting absentee ballots must follow directions and meet deadlines.

In this year’s spring primary, 21,154 of the 1.83 million absentee ballots cast statewide were rejected and not counted, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. During the 2016 General Election, 1.89 million absentee ballots were cast and 10,439 were rejected in Ohio.

RELATED VIDEO: Absentee ballots must be carefully marked

The most common reasons are for an absentee ballot to remain uncounted are: It was not received on time, the voter signature was missing, identifying information was incorrect or missing, or the ballot stub was removed by the voter.

County boards have always been able to mail voters notification if they’ve provided insufficient information on the application or ballot envelope. This year LaRose is requiring them to call or email voters who have provided that contact information to try to fix problems over the phone or get documentation sent in.

Absentee ballots in OhioGeneral Election 2016 Primary Election 2020
Total absentee ballots cast1,890,069 1,831,640
Total rejected ballots not counted*10,439 21,154
Rejected due to mismatched signature332 217
Requested but not returned by voter5,344 14,151
*Ballots are rejected for a variety of reasons including arriving too late, signatures not matching voter registration signature, missing identifying information on the ballot envelope or the ballot stub is torn off by the voter.  
Source: Ohio Secretary of State 

Elections staff do not look at the actual ballot. So if voters make a mistake — such as not filling in the oval completely — it will not be caught until it is scanned and no way exists to determine who cast the ballot, Harsman said.

After Election Day the bipartisan, four-person board of elections will consider ballots that the scanner rejected due to problems, Kelly said. If a ballot is torn or mutilated, a bipartisan team of board staff can remake it and run it through the scanner so the votes count. If the ballot is marked contrary to instructions throughout, it can be remade and run through the scanner. If some races are marked correctly but others are not, only those races marked correctly are counted, she said.

RELATED: Ohio elections officials say vote-by-mail in primary changes everything

State law prohibits the board from trying to determine voter intent, so Kelly said some ballots must be rejected because markings on the ballot are unclear.

“The most important thing you have to remember as a voter is when you fill out your ballot, get a black ink pen. Fill in the oval completely. Do not use pencil, pretty colored ink, stamps, stickers. Do not use a smiley face," Kelly said. "Don’t make any remarks. Don’t use a check mark. Don’t use an ‘X’ in the oval because the scanner can’t read it, and it won’t count.”

How do I contact my local county board of elections?

Butler County

1802 Princeton Road, Suite 600, Hamilton, OH 45011 Office Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (513) 887-3700 Fax: (513) 887-5535 E-mail: Website:

Champaign County

1512 S. U.S. 68, Suite L100, Urbana, OH 43078 Office Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (937) 484-1575 Fax: (937) 484-1578 E-mail: Website:

Clark County

3130 E. Main St., Springfield, OH 45505 Mailing Address: PO Box 1766 Springfield, OH 45501-1766 Office Hours: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (937) 521-2120 Fax: (937) 328-2603 E-mail: Website:

Greene County

551 Ledbetter Road, Xenia, OH 45385 Office Hours: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (937) 562-6170 Fax: (937) 562-6171 E-mail: Website:

Miami County

215 W. Main St., Troy, OH 45373 Office Hours: 8 a.m-4 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (937) 440-3900 Fax: (937) 440-3901 E-mail: Website:

Montgomery County

451 W. Third St. Dayton, OH 45422 Office Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (937) 225-5656 Fax: (937) 496-7798 E-mail: Website:

Warren County

520 Justice Dr., Lebanon, OH 45036 Office Hours: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Telephone: (513) 695-1358 Fax: (513) 695-2953 E-mail: Website:

Follow Lynn Hulsey on Twitter and Facebook.

About the Author