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Two College Students Consider Road Trips To Vote In Person In Ohio

It took a rental car and a five-hour drive from Ithaca, N.Y., for Cornell University sophomore Katrina Cassell to cast her vote at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections on Thursday.

In Boston, Berklee College of Music junior Audrey Savransky weighed similar options after the absentee ballot she requested never showed up, she said.

“I’ve actually talked about, with a few people, about the idea of driving back the nine hours to get to come back home and vote,” Savransky said, “because it’s too important of an election, and a lot of people’s rights are on the line.”

Determining just how many college students may still be waiting for Ohio mail-in ballots is a difficult task, but at least two considered hours-long treks to vote early in person in an election that may see historic voter turnout.

By the end of Thursday, voters had not yet returned about 66,000 requested absentee ballots in Cuyahoga County, including overseas and nursing home ballots.

The deadline to request mail-in ballots is noon on Oct. 31, but election officials say that functionally it is already too late. Mail-in votes must be postmarked by Nov. 2, and boards will accept late-arriving absentees until Nov. 13.

Voters who have requested — but not yet cast — absentee ballots can vote early in person at county boards of elections instead. If those voters show up at polling places on Election Day, however, they will be given provisional ballots.

Like many absentee voters, Cassell waited anxiously for news that her ballot was on its way, checking the board’s online tracker. The final warning sign came on Oct. 26, when she called the board and learned the ballot she’d requested would be mailed to her home address in Ohio, not Ithaca, she said.

So, she went to an Avis rental car office, she said.

“I’m only 19, so it’s actually kind of a process to rent a car,” Cassell said, “but I ended up being able to do it, which was good and lucky.”

Cassell drove from Ithaca straight to the board of elections in Cleveland, waiting in line about 45 minutes to cast her vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, she said.

“I felt frustrated that it wasn’t made more easy,” she said, “but I definitely wanted to vote, and it was important to me to vote in Ohio, and I think Biden has a decent chance of winning in Ohio.”

Audrey Savransky spent some of the spring term taking classes remotely in Ohio, part of Berklee’s effort to thwart the spread of the coronavirus. Berklee planned a hybrid model of virtual and in-person instruction in the fall, so Savransky traveled back to Massachusetts and found an apartment.

“After signing a lease, they said that they would be going entirely remote because they weren’t comfortable with reopening our campus,” Savransky said. “So I just kind of got stuck here.”

She submitted an absentee ballot request, which the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections received on Sept. 25, according to data from the board. But by late October, the ballot had not yet arrived, she said.

After calls with the board of elections and the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, Savransky learned her only options were to request a reissued ballot or to vote in person.

“I don’t have a car right now,” Savransky told ideastream on Thursday, “so I’m trying to find someone who would be willing to make that journey with me.”

The next day, Savransky texted from the airport: She booked a flight to Cleveland and plans to vote in person over the weekend.

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