CLEVELAND — Legal analysis: This year may be the year that Election Day turns into election week, or maybe even election month, and not because of voter fraud, but it does have to do with voting by mail.
For the first time, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has told county officials to expect up to half of all votes in the presidential election to be sent in by mail, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s double what we’re used to seeing. Only about 20-25 percent of Ohio voters have typically voted by mail in previous presidential election years, according to the Secretary of State's office.
Legally speaking, none of those votes can be tallied until 7:30 pm on election night.
Absentee ballots are permitted to be processed as they arrive to county board of elections offices, meaning checked in and verified, but that's not the same thing as counting the votes they contain.
And as long as those ballots are postmarked by November 2, they don’t have to arrive until November 13 to be counted.
For example, this past spring, Hamilton County received approximately 20,000 absentee ballots in the mail on the last day of the extended election, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office.
All 20,000 of those ballots needed to be opened, processed, and tabulated that day, and that takes time.
But rest assured, so long as your absentee ballot arrives to your county's board of elections office by November 13, it will be counted. Ohio voters can make sure of that by tracking their absentee ballot request forms and their actual ballots, just like a package, at VoteOhio.gov.
The deadline to register to vote in Ohio is October 5, and if you’re in the system by Labor Day, you’ll automatically be mailed an application to vote by mail. That part isn’t new. Ohio has been doing that since 2012.
(If you register to vote after September 7 and aren't automatically mailed an absentee ballot application, you can download one here.)
If you want to vote by mail, just fill out and send that application to your county board of elections, and then you’ll be mailed an absentee ballot.
And despite what President Donald Trump says, in Ohio, there’s no difference between absentee voting and mail-in voting.
Ohio officials aren't worried about mail voting fraud, either, with signature and voter identification checks at two different points in the process, per the Ohio Revised Code.
Officials are recommending that you mail your ballot back well ahead of the November 2 deadline, to safeguard against any delays that might result due to overwhelming vote-by-mail numbers.
And if you prefer, you can always drop your absentee ballot off in person at your county board of elections, by November 3.
No matter how you choose to vote, just don’t be surprised, or concerned, if Ohio doesn't declare election winners on Election Day.
Stephanie Haney is licensed to practice law in both Ohio and California.
The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only. None of the information in this article is offered, nor should it be construed, as legal advice on any matter.