Absentee voting made easier

Erin Roof

Voting absentee in the upcoming May 2 election just got easier. Thanks to a new “no-fault absentee” voting reform, Ohioans don’t need an excuse to receive an absentee ballot. They must simply request one.

Another part of the reform also requires voters to provide identification to vote absentee. This unsettles Lois Enlow, director of the Portage County Board of Elections.

“Now they have to give us all the information,” she said.

To receive an absentee ballot, Enlow said voters must provide the Board of Elections, located in the Portage County Administration Building at 449 S. Meridian St. in Ravenna, with their names, addresses, birthdates and another form of identification listing voters’ names and addresses. This can include Ohio driver licenses, utility bills, bank statements or pay checks. Enlow said the Board of Elections also accepts the last four digits of voters’ social security numbers and Ohio license plate numbers.

Enlow said she does not see a need for the additional requirement, as there are other means of identifying voters. The current method of verifying signatures is adequate, Enlow said.

“We have your signature,” she said. “The first thing I am going to do is go to my computer.”

Many democrats across the state agree with Enlow that showing identification is unneeded. John Sapp, party chair of the Portage County Ohio Democratic Central Committee, isn’t one of them.

“I have voted absentee because I work at the polls,” he said. “I have no objections.”

Kent City Councilman Ed Bargerstock also said he thinks the new requirement is a good idea.

“It is important to verify that the people who are voting are who they say they are and are eligible voters,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to be as accurate as possible.”

Bargerstock, a poll worker who has also voted absentee, said absentee voting is vital to the election process.

“We have a lot of people who are sick or have disabilities who prefer to vote that way,” he said.

Though he is in favor of the no-fault absentee reform, he said he does not think it means more people will vote.

“I don’t see a significant affect of voter turnout,” he said. “It is simply that people are unmotivated and are not aware of their civic responsibility.”

Enlow said she believes many regular voters will opt to vote absentee because of the reform.

“In other states that require this, they are saying the first time around you will see some change.” She said data from states that have adopted the no-fault absentee reform shows about 20 percent increases in absentee voting.

Enlow said 700 Portage County residents have already requested absentee ballots. She said she believes the office will complete 1,500 requests before the election.

Voters wishing to use absentee ballots can download a PDF application from the Board of Election’s Web site, http://www.co.portage.oh.us/election/index.html. Enlow said people can also vote at the Board of Election’s office before the election, where electronic voting machines are available.

Enlow said she prefers the electronic voting machines to the older optical scan method.

“It’s not new technology,” she said. “The scanners are time consuming.”

The Portage County Board of Elections is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Roof at [email protected]