State task force created to prepare for presidential election during pandemic

A bipartisan statewide commission has been formed by the Ohio Secretary of State to help prepare for the November presidential election.

Warren County Board of Election director Brian Sleeth was named Tuesday by Secretary of State Frank LaRose to the Ready for November Task Force.

“How are we going to have this intimate interaction with voters while keeping a six-foot distance?” Sleeth said.

The task force will provide updates on how counties are preparing, hear from experts, learn from county elections administrators about their needs and requirements, develop “best practices” and study information about “the evolving health situation,” according to the announcement.

Sleeth said he spoke with LaRose Tuesday during a brief overview and introduction about how to prepare voters and election officials for the election “with everything that’s changed” since COVID-19 altered the primary election day.

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The task force will also study the progress of Ohio House Bill 680, which includes provisions for the upcoming election different than those planned by LaRose and calling for expansion of early voting.

The law change would eliminate in-person early voting on Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the Tuesday, Nov. 3 election, offered since 2015,

It would also end the mailing of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, which has been done since 2008.

Sleeth said he was “personally divided” on the prospect of going to all-mail-in elections.

Cost savings on pollworker wages would be offset by the cost of return postage, he said. Finding experienced pollworkers will be difficult, due to anticipated hesitance by veterans who stay home to avoid exposure to the new virus.

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Regardless Sleeth predicted mail-in voting “is going to be higher than we’ve ever seen.”

Voter education will be essential.

With primary absentee ballots still coming in, “I’ve still got voters thinking the (primary) election’s in June,” he said.

“The key is educating the public and trying to get everybody that wants tovote early to vote early.”

Joining LaRose and Sleeth, second vice president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials; are the state association’s president, Michelle Wilcox, director of the Auglaize County Board of Elections; Rob Frost, the association’s immediate past president and an election board member in Cuyahoga County; and Lisa Welch, First Vice President of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Holmes County Board of Elections.

Sleeth and Wilcox are Democrats and Frost and Welch Republicans, according to the announcement. State law requires election board directors to be of the opposite party of the board chairs.

“The mission of the task force is to provide updates from the field on the challenges and needs of our county boards of elections to administer a safe, secure, and accessible election in the fall, and how the state can help support their efforts,” according to Tuesday’s announcement.

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