TOLEDO, Ohio — The chief executive officer of Midwest Direct, the Cleveland-based firm that is fulfilling absentee ballot printing and mailing for 16 Ohio counties, issued a statement on Thursday to answer questions regarding the ballots.
According to CEO Richard T. Gebbie, the firm, as well as boards of election and the Ohio secretary of state's office, could not have anticipated the large volume of absentee ballots that would be requested by voters amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At least two Ohio counties, including Lucas County, have expressed concern over delays in getting ballots to voters. Absentee ballots could start to be mailed out on Oct. 6 and some voters report still not having received their ballots as of Oct. 14.
"We have been working with the boards of elections ... since August to make sure the ballot distribution process would go as smoothly as possible. Anticipating that the volume of requests might be two times what it was in 2016, our company bought extra equipment, brought in extra staff and expanded hours to prepare to meet the demand," Gebbie's letter said.
"It is fair to say that no one - not the various boards of elections, not Ohio's Secretary of State, not our company - anticipated the staggering volume of mail-in ballot requests that has actually occurred. One of our counties, for instance, told us to expect 40,000 to 70,000 mail-in ballot requests. To date, we have processed 95,000 requests for that county alone. With another 14,000 ballots requested from the county this week. The estimates provided to us were not what ended up as the reality," he said.
On Friday, the New York Times called out Midwest Direct for the delays and also accused the company of potential bias, as both Richard T. Gebbie and brother James Gebbie, the company chairman, are supporters of President Donald J. Trump. The newspaper showed a photo of a flagpole at the Cleveland headquarters flying a Trump flag. Richard T. Gebbie was quote by the newspaper as saying, "We fly a flag because my brother and I own the company and we support President Trump."
In remarks to the Times, Gebbie emphasized that the ballots his company mailed met strict security standards.
In Lucas County, about 62,000 absentee ballots were requested, and more could be coming in before the Oct. 31 deadline. Democrats U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, and State Rep. Teresa Fedor held a news conference on Wednesday to demand action on what they termed unacceptable delays in getting the absentee ballots to voters in Lucas County.
Midwest Direct's Gebbie said that the firm is getting ballots to voters as quickly as possible.
"Despite this unparalleled volume, we are getting ballots into the hands of voters quickly and accurately. The Postal Service delivery standards are 5 to 7 days. However, our mail tracking software we are seeing up to 85 percent of the ballots we are processing are arriving in the hands of voters one to two days after they are shipped to the post office. Our staff is working 16 hours every day to make sure everyone who wants a ballot in the counties we are serving gets one in tie to cast their vote," Gebbie said.
On Wednesday, press secretary Maggie Sheehan with the Ohio Secretary of State's Office said Secretary Frank LaRose knew of the situation with Midwest Direct and Gebbie confirmed that Thursday.
"We have been in touch with Ohio's Secretary of State since the mail-in balloting proces started to make sure Secretary LaRose and his staff know the status of our work. We are in regular contact with our board of election clients to update them on the status of ballot mailings, including Allegheny (Pennsylvania) and Lucas counties," Gebbie said.
"We know how important this election is to everyone in our country and we pledge to do everything our company can to make sure the mail-in ballot process proceeds expediently."