New to voting, or confused on how it works this year?

By Adrienne McGee Sterrett -


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What to expect

• Lots of personal protective equipment.

“We are asking people to wear masks into the polls,” Allen County Board of Elections Director Kathy Meyer said. “We’re trying to protect everybody.”

In Allen County, poll workers — who will be wearing PPE — will first take your temperature and offer you a mask if you aren’t wearing one. If a voter declines a mask or has a fever, workers will request they use curbside voting services. The voter can decline that request.

“We will not turn anyone away,” Meyer said. “We have had a couple come in here and refuse to wear masks, but we want to let them vote.”

In Auglaize County, poll workers will wear masks, shields and gloves. Voters will each get a bag with glove, mask, sticker and pen. Voters should wear the glove when signing in to the poll book.

In Putnam County, poll workers will wear masks and shields. They’ll ask voters to use hand sanitizer. Pens will be cleaned between uses. Gloves and gowns will be available for voters if they want them.

• Choose your clothing wisely.

“No campaign materials can be worn into our location or into the polls,” Meyer said of the board of elections office, where early in-person voting has been occurring and will continue.

That means no stickers, buttons, T-shirts, masks or hats with a candidate’s name on it within 100 feet of the voting place.

“That is a federal offense,” Meyer said.

Workers will ask people to turn the item inside out or cover it with a jacket.

“Because you want the best environment for the voters, the most neutral, so you don’t feel influenced,” Auglaize County Board of Elections Director Michelle Wilcox said.

Mailers from candidates are allowed, as are handwritten lists of names, because they are considered personal notes for that voter.

• Be prepared to wait in line.

Early in-person voting in the region has spiked.

“We have been averaging almost 500 a day,” Meyer said. “We’re almost double what we did in 2016 already.”

Auglaize and Putnam counties are also reporting more early voters than usual.

“Voters also need to know it may look like a long line, but there may only be six people in front. It’s just because of the social distancing,” Wilcox said.

• Consider bringing a pen.

The voting method in Allen, Auglaize and Putnam counties is the same — paper ballots with ovals that voters fill in with dark ink.

Four ways to vote

The registration deadline has passed. If you are not already registered, you have missed your opportunity to vote in the November election.

If you are registered, here are your voting options:

• Absentee by mail

Absentee ballots must be requested in Ohio.

“Ohio does not do what (Trump) is calling universal absentee ballots,” Meyer said.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot to be mailed to you is noon Oct. 31. Meyer explained this is an older law from when mail was handled locally, and she has concerns that doesn’t allow enough turnaround time.

“If you don’t have an application in to us by Oct. 26 to 27, you may not get your ballot. The post office is trying not to send election mail out of town. They’re trying to get it delivered,” Meyer said. “I had a woman call today from New Mexico upset because they haven’t received their ballot yet. So it’s difficult, you know?”

Absentee ballots have an identification envelope and an external envelope.

“The biggest thing is, read the instructions,” Meyer said. “Make sure your identification envelope is filled out properly and the ballot is sealed inside of it.”

Return a voted ballot either by mail or dropbox at boards of elections. If you’re mailing it, don’t forget to affix one forever stamp.

“The post office has been lenient and has been delivering election mail without postage,” Meyer said. “But I wouldn’t take that chance.”

Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by the board of elections 10 days after Election Day.

If using a dropbox, try to put your ballot in the box personally. The law states only family members may handle ballots for others.

“A voter has to be smart about what they’re doing,” Meyer said.

Allen County Board of Elections purchased a mail extractor with CARES Act funds, which helps open all the envelopes. A worker checks it in, making sure the identification information matches what is on file, and the ballot can be counted as soon as it comes in. Ohio does not have to wait until Election Day to begin scanning these ballots.

Check an absentee ballot’s status at

• In-person early voting

Boards of elections have begun extended hours for voting, which will continue through Nov. 2.

If you choose to vote earlier than Election Day, the process is essentially an absentee ballot that is filled out and scanned in person.

Check voting hours at

• Curbside in-person early voting

Voters should call the board of election on arrival. A placeholder volunteer needs to stand in line for the curbside voter, and that can be a friend of the voter or a poll worker. Two workers — a Democrat and a Republican — will come to the car to collect the voter’s name and information. The bipartisan team goes inside to fetch the ballot and bring it back out. They’ll step back while the voter is filling it out and then take it back in.

• On Election Day in polling place

Voters can help speed the process by knowing what precinct they live in, having their ID out and writing clearly so their signature is a good match for their previous signatures. Ohio accepts as ID anything issued by the government — utility bills with name and address correct, car registration, even hunting licenses.

“It shouldn’t take them more than a few minutes (to vote),” Meyer said.

What is a provisional ballot?

If you have moved and forgotten to update your voter registration, you will vote provisionally. The form to do so is essentially a registration form, Meyer said.

One wrinkle: Your driver’s license does not have to show your current address.

Can I volunteer?

Volunteer poll workers are still being accepted in the region. The directors are trying to prepare a list of extra workers to lean on in case there is an outbreak of coronavirus or quarantines that would involve the regular workers. Call your board of elections for details.

By Adrienne McGee Sterrett


Read more about candidates and issues at

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