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COVID-19 Stories: Nailing the Ballot Question

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Is 2020 the year of mail-in election ballots? In Ohio, they now sprout from trees.

The Ohio Voter Rights Coalition ramped up after the Buckeye State’s March primary was abruptly postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. It meant barely a month to mobilize voters for a new, vote-by-mail April 28 primary when everyone is far more anxious about staying healthy and protecting paychecks.

“How do you get hold of 7 million potential voters?” asked Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio and a member of the coalition steering committee.

Well, here’s how you try: They launched a grassroots campaign that included volunteers text messaging potential voters, including links to Board of Elections websites and answers to any and all questions. Through mid-April, they had contacted 220,000 voters through 800,000 texts.

They also picked up absentee ballot applications in bulk, divvied them up and posted them throughout neighborhoods across the state. On real estate lawn signs. Front porches. Book exchange boxes in front yards. Even nailed to trees in parkways, easy for passersby to grab without human contact.

“Most of the applications were grabbed by people walking past,” commented Cathy Covarrubias, a volunteer who posted them on her tree in a Cleveland suburb. “I lost count of how many applications I printed off.”

Laid bare, Turcer said, was the need for reforms to the mail-in voting process. That includes making absentee ballot applications available on the internet (“It’s 2020!”), more staff for elections offices to process mail ballot requests, and software to help verify signature matches.

“I’m glad we’ll have time before November to be really thoughtful about this,” she said.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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