COVID-19: How to Protect Our Elections, and Our Democracy

Educate the public, plan for future elections, and demand open government

COVID-19 pandemic brought a last minute postponement of Ohio's in-person primary election. Here's information on how you can still participate, and on how what we need to do to safeguard our elections -- and other aspects of our democracy -- going forward.

All over the country, states are attempting to figure out how to run elections during a crisis. While we have never seen anything like this pandemic, we are confident that we can find solutions that protect public health and encourage voter participation and engagement. Ohioans shouldn’t have to worry about their health and the health of democracy, but the truth is, we need to keep an eye on both.  

We can do this by focusing on 1.) getting information out to Ohio voters about our primary, 2.) planning now for November, and 3.) working to ensure access to government hearings and deliberations as local governments and school boards in Ohio move to virtual meetings. 

Primary 2020

In Ohio, we are getting a head start on figuring out how we can run elections and keep voters safe. When Dr. Acton shut down the polls, it wasn’t clear what was going to happen next. Governor DeWine suggested a new date of June 2, but the legislature opted to move to vote-by-mail — with a few exceptions — with the primary concluding on April 28. 

Things we all need to know about the Primary:

  1. If you have not already voted, request to vote-by-mail today
  2. This primary election is now all vote-by-mail, with a few exceptions for disabled voters who need accommodations, and those experiencing homelessness. Contact your board of elections, if you need to vote in-person
  3. Voters can track their ballots all the way from the request to when the ballot is received for counting. 
  4. Ballots must be postmarked by April 27 or dropped off to the Board of Elections by 7:30pm on April 28. But do not wait to get your request to vote-by-mail in. It takes the Board of Elections time to assist voters with their vote-by-mail applications, processing the applications once received, and getting the ballots in the mail to voters. Don’t delay! 
  5. College students who are registered to vote where they live during the school year still need to apply to vote-by-mail in the county where they are registered. Click here for a directory of boards of elections.  

Two ways we can all help get the word out about how to vote-by-mail: 

Because we are socially distancing, social media plays an even more important role in our lives. Please consider sharing these images on social media and encouraging voters to get their vote-by-mail or absentee voting applications in as soon as possible. 

Common Cause Ohio and the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition is committed to texting 1 million Ohio voters but we need your help!  Sign up today to join our texting campaign. This campaign focuses on texting voters with information about how to request a vote-by-mail ballot and then reminding voters to get those ballots back to the boards of election ASAP. 

Planning for the November Election

Here are three important policies that MUST be allowed to continue or enacted immediately:

  1. The Secretary of State must mail a postage-paid absentee ballot application to every registered voter in Ohio every year. Luckily, the Ohio General Assembly has provided funding for this November general election. Voters should be on the lookout for their application when it arrives in September. But there’s no guarantee that voters will continue to receive unsolicited applications in future years. Requiring absentee applications to be sent to every registered voter every year is an important first step to protect Ohio voters and our elections.
  2. The Ohio General Assembly must immediately enact legislation to enable voters to request an absentee ballot online — without a need to print and mail the application. In an era where the census can be completed and our taxes can be filed online, this is a very measured and actionable request. We’ve had a successful online voter registration system in Ohio for several years. Allowing voters to request their ballots online is a doable and important next step.
  3. The Ohio General Assembly and/or Secretary of State must provide sufficient funding for our 88 county boards of elections so they have the resources needed to hold a robust vote-by-mail election if necessary. In the past, only about fifteen percent of Ohio voters have typically voted by mail or voted early in-person. It is quite possible that we will need to offer greatly expanded vote-by-mail for the November election. Making sure that  the boards of elections have the resources they need to help voters is critical.

Keeping an eye on government actions during the pandemic 

The Ohio General Assembly passed legislation permitting all local governments to meet virtually but the rules of open government apply:

  1. Public bodies like city councils and school boards still need to provide notification of meetings and hearings to the press and the public at least 24 hours in advance. 
  2. Local and state government still needs to ensure that the public can observe and hear the discussions and deliberations. Public access can include live-streaming, local TV, public access channels or teleconferencing.
  3. Public bodies must establish a means, through the use of electronic equipment that is widely available to the general public, to converse with witnesses, and to receive documentary testimony and physical evidence.