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Voter Protection Groups Report Some Misinformation, Intimidation During Election

Voters line up outside the Franklin County Board of Elections for early voting on Oct. 6, 2020.
Julie Carr Smyth
Associated Press
Voters line up outside the Franklin County Board of Elections for early voting on Oct. 6, 2020.

Aside from an early technical error in Franklin County, there were no widespread issues with Tuesday’s vote in Ohio. However, non-partisan groups who help protect and inform voters say that misinformation and voter intimidation were problems throughout the election.

On Election Day, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told reporters that voting was "going smoothly so far."

"Of course, with any election when you have a big diverse state like Ohio, there are going to be a few things here or there," LaRose said.

And there were. About 24 hours later, advocates for voters shed light on a few of those problems.

Morgan Conley of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, one of the non-partisan groups that helped voters through a statewide voter protection effort, says advocates reported hearing about misleading information being given to voters.

“We also heard a lot of calls around intimidation and electioneering. And here we saw almost a 50% uptick in those calls from 2016," Conley said.

The advocates say they heard about overly zealous campaign or issue supporters who made voters feel uncomfortable, and calls from voters who felt intimidated because someone was openly carrying a firearm at a polling place. That’s something that is allowed under Ohio law, but not if the polling place is in a building that bans guns, such as a school.

Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters of Ohio said another complaint on Election Day involved the unavailability of voting from cars.

“We got so many calls about curbside voting, throughout the early vote cycle as well as on Election Day where voters didn’t know how to get their curbside ballots, where they were told it wasn’t available when it was supposed to be," Miller said.

The demand for curbside voting was higher than usual this year because of the pandemic. Anyone who didn’t feel comfortable voting inside the polling place, or just couldn’t vote inside because of health reasons, was encouraged to use curbside voting.

Early voting was way up this year: 3.4 million Ohioans voted an absentee ballot, either by mail, dropping a ballot at a drop box or by early voting in-person at local voting centers. People who were not used to voting those ballots were requesting them in droves this year.

Collin Marozzi with the ACLU of Ohio said the process was confusing for voters who sent in requests but continued to receive absentee ballot applications. He says changes to law should be made so voters can request those ballots online and once they do, allow that to be recorded.

“If there was more of a one-stop process in going to the Secretary of State’s website to request it, we think that could alleviate a lot of this confusion that did occur with multiple mailings going to individual voters," Marozzi says.

The election protection advocates say long lines that were seen during early voting could be eliminated if the state would allow multiple early vote centers and ballot drop boxes, especially in counties with higher populations.

Many of these suggested changes have been proposed before, but majority Republicans in the state legislature have not embraced them. With Republicans adding to their majorities in the House and Senate, these suggestions may not move.

LaRose himself says he’s not against some of them. However, LaRose repeatedly went to court to prevent allowing more drop boxes in counties that wanted them in the months running up to the election.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.