By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Wood County Board of Elections sent out 10,229 absentee ballots for the Nov. 8 election. Once they were placed in the mail, the board thought its work was done until the completed ballots were mailed back in.
But then they started getting phone calls.
Absentee ballots mailed out on Oct. 12 still hadn’t gotten to many voters – primarily those who lived out of state or in the North Baltimore and Fostoria areas.
The voters were advised to wait a little bit, that the ballots were in the mail.
It now appears many ballots made it to the Detroit mail sorting center in Pontiac, Michigan, but didn’t get any further than that.
“Once we drop it in the mail, we lose control,” Wood County Board of Elections Director Terry Burton said Saturday morning. “We rely on that system to do what it should.”
“This happens in every election. It just happened a little bit more in this election,” Burton said.
And Wood County is not alone. It appears that many absentee ballots from all over Northwest Ohio have not made it to their intended destinations.
“What happened to those ballots? Where they got hung up, we don’t know,” Burton said. “While I would like to rail the postal system – and there may be a time for that – what we are focusing on now is correcting the problem.”
So as of Saturday morning, the Wood County Board of Elections has reissued nearly 300 absentee ballots for those missing, and has suspended the initial ballots sent out. Each ballot has an absentee number, so the missing ones can be canceled and new ones issued. “So at least we can make sure they can vote,” Burton said.
The majority of the initial absentee ballots went out without a hitch. Some residents in Bowling Green and Perrysburg reported “getting them practically overnight.” And as of Saturday morning, 5,279 completed absentee ballots had been returned to the board of elections.
Some of the voters who called to report they hadn’t received absentee ballots have since gotten the original ones in the mail. In those cases, they are being advised to call the board of elections and read off the ballot number to make sure the ballot is still activated.
The Wood County Board of Elections is trying to ensure everyone who wants to vote absentee has a ballot to do so.
“If they’ve called in, we’ve reissued them a ballot. It’s better that we get something to them,” Burton said. “We’re just trying to manage the situation as we can. We are trying to control what we can control.”
But Burton realizes the board of elections is in a real “time crunch,” with the election just 10 days away. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by the day before the election, Nov. 7, and must be received by the board within 10 days after the election to count.
It has helped that higher authorities have gotten involved in solving the problem, Burton said. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta have pushed for the ballots to be located. And the Postmaster General has “cleansed” the Pontiac postal center to make sure any ballots received there are sent out.
That appears to have worked, since by the end of this past week voters were reporting to the Wood County Board of Elections that they had finally gotten their absentee ballots. Voters needing ballots in Canada, Indiana and at college called to say the ballots had arrived.
“They are suddenly finding their way to the right people,” Burton said.
And completed ballots are being returned much faster, with one from Florida being over-nighted this past week, he added.
“Somebody’s lit a fire under someone,” Burton said.
But some voters are not willing to put their trust in the postal service, and are coming into the board of elections office to cast early ballots rather than waiting for their absentee ballots to come in the mail.
“There may be a time for us to scream and pound our fists, but now is a time to solve the problem,” Burton said.