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Ohio Gave Curbside Voting A Boost, But Advocates Say It Could Be Even Easier

At North High School in Akron, poll worker Mary Olesky and voting location manager Josh Schaffer provide curbside voting to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Sarah Taylor
/
WKSU
At North High School in Akron, poll worker Mary Olesky and voting location manager Josh Schaffer provide curbside voting to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Since the general election, election officials are predicting absentee voting will become even more popular in the future. But voting advocates say voters need to be educated about another option: curbside voting.

Almost 6 million voters turned out for Ohio's 2020 election, the highest number ever, with turnout increases in all of the state's 88 counties.

Curbside voting has always been available to Ohio voters, but became more visible during the pandemic, as an option for voters who had or were exposed to COVID-19, as well as those who wanted to avoid stepping inside a polling place.

However, League of Women Voters of Ohio director Jen Miller says few voters actually knew how to ask for it. That gap showed during the month ballots were cast.

“We were getting questions on curbside voting from early voting to Election Day," Miller says. "Some polling locations and early vote centers had well-marked parking spots and signage. But at other locations, voters literally didn’t know how to access the curbside voting whatsoever."

The process starts at the polls, when the voter or a surrogate requests the curbside option, usually from inside their car. From there, poll workers check the voter’s registration and address and write both on a blank sheet.

Two poll workers, one from each political party, take the sheet outside to verify the name and address and check the voter’s identification. The voter signs the document, and the workers carry it back to the polls to verify the signature.

Once that’s done, the workers carry a paper ballot back to the voter and wait until the ballot is completed and placed in a sealed envelope. The workers carry the envelope back inside so the ballot can be processed.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose required boards of elections to offer curbside voting to any voter who is physically unable to, or concerned about, entering a polling location. But they aren’t required to have signs explaining this information, or telling voters how to contact poll workers to start the process.

Miller said those missing instructions caused confusion for voters.

“I think that boards of elections knew the protocols and could offer curbside voting, but that didn’t mean they were looking at it from the perspective of the voter,” Miller said.

In Franklin County, almost 1,600 people voted curbside this year, compared to less than 100 in the 2016 election.

Stark County Board of Elections administrative assistant Travis Secrest said local health departments touted the curbside option as a safe way to vote this year. To meet the anticipated demand, the board of elections set aside parking spots at all 115 polling locations.

“There was reserved parking places with a sign and a phone number to call in," Secrest said. "You did not have to leave your car to notify poll workers that you were in need of curbside service."

Each poll also had extra workers to handle curbside requests, and everyone was trained in the procedure and on keeping safe when offering the service, Secrest said.

“In the past, people would use curbside usually for mobility issues," he said. "But we did add the fact that somebody might be using curbside because they were either COVID positive or under a quarantine order because of exposure to somebody had tested positive. We also added a lot of PPE (personal protective equipment) to the polling locations as well."

Secrest and Lewis both believe more folks will request curbside voting from now on. Lewis thinks it will be attractive to older Ohioans, now that they know about it, so she wants boards of elections to display instructions on their websites and make signage a regular practice.