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Mail-in Primary poses processing problems

LISBON — For the first time anyone can remember, and maybe the first time in state history, an entire election is being conducted by mail.

That is the task thrust upon county election boards throughout Ohio after the state postponed the March 17 primary election 15 hours before the polls were to open to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At the same time, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the election was being moved to June 2, but the state legislature later passed a law rescheduling the primary for April 28. The legislature also ordered that it be be conducted entirely by mail, and that no polling places would open.

Kim Fusco, director of the Columbiana County Board of Elections, knew she, deputy director Bryce Miner and their staff of four faced a daunting task: How to receive, mail and then process tens of thousands of absentee ballots.

Fusco said their first job was to get some help. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose made money available to election boards for that purpose, with the allocation based on voter registration. The county has been promised up to $41,000 if needed and received a down payment of $10,000.

The money has been used to hire nine additional people to assist them, including several poll workers. Fusco said it is a labor intensive effort. First, they have to process the applications, which includes checking the applicant’s voter registration, preparing the appropriate ballot, putting it an envelope, running it through a postage meter and mailing it to them.

To date, 11,213 absentee ballots have been mailed out and 6,803 returned. Nearly 2,100 people had already voted by mail or at the office prior to the March 17 election, and those will be counted with the others.

There are 63,000 registered voters in the county.

Fusco said about half of the applications have been from those who went to their website and printed out an application. The rest have either requested an application by mail or from people who stopped by the lobby outside the elections board to get an application sitting on a table.

“We now have a drop-off box outside the board of elections where you can drop off your ballot in the box, which is locked and secured,” she said.

The elections board is receiving 800 to 1,200 applications per day, and Fusco said their staff is doing an outstanding job keeping up and do not leave until they are caught up for the day.

“We’re doing as best as we can, I guess. I think everyone who is working here is working together and getting it done,” she said. “I’m just so impressed with everyone.”

Fusco reminds voters the deadline for obtaining an application is noon April 25, and all absentee ballots being mailed in must be postmarked no later than April 27. The deadline for anyone dropping off their ballot in the box located outside the elections board is 7:30 p.m. April 28.

Fusco hopes this is their first and last all-absentee election.

“I don’t ever want to do this again. It’s crazy,” she said.

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