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Absentee voters a big factor in election

Absentee voting is becoming more popular in Lawrence County.

According to Eric Bradshaw, the deputy director of the Lawrence County Board of Elections, 10 to 15 percent of the votes cast in the Nov. 6 general election could come from people who mail in their ballots rather go to their polling station. And in an election that will probably only see a third of registered voters actually vote, that increases the power of the absentee ballot.

How it works

It used to be that to vote by absentee ballot, a person had to give a reason such as being hospitalized or being out of town.

However, Ohio changed the law three years ago.

“Now, you don’t have to give a reason,” Bradshaw said. “Today’s absentee ballot just means people don’t have to lie about it.”

A person requests in writing an application, their information is checked against what is on file and then the absentee ballot is mailed to them. The ballot has to be sent back to the board of election office by the end of voting on the night of general election. Members of the military on active duty have to have their absentee votes in within 10 days of the elections.

The board sends out absentee ballots until noon on Nov. 3, the Saturday before the election.

“That’s because there is just no time after that date,” Bradshaw said.

Benefits

Bradshaw said that the benefit of the absentee ballots for the board of elections workers is that they have more ways of checking signatures and birth dates.

“We can check signatures so much better here than they can out at the polling place,” he said.

The importance

Bradshaw said that absentee voters represent a large portion of voters in Lawrence County. While there are 43,000 registered voters, up to 65 percent don’t bother or can’t vote. So 10 to 15 percent of the vote is absentee and 20 percent go to

their polling booth.

“So it’s a big percentage of voters,” he said. The last count of absentee voters was just under 4,000 with a week for people to still sign up. “So absentees make up one-third of all people who actually vote.”

So both the Lawrence County Republicans and Democrats, absentee voters are vital.

Craig Allen, the chair of the Lawrence County Democratic Party, said it is a way for everyone to vote.

“The Democrats have always firmly believed that every eligible voter should vote,” he said. “Absentee ballots greatly increase the accessibility of the polling place to people who are working, who are ill, to senior citizens. So we are all for it.”

Ray T. Dutey, the chair of the Lawrence County Republican Party, said he’s happy so many people make use of the absentee ballot.

“They’ve made it so easy that people are taking advantage of it,” Dutey said. “Everyone should be able to vote and they should vote. It’s a shame that only 35 percent of people vote. It’s a good thing and more people should take advantage of it.”

The downside

One of the darker sides of the absentee ballots is the potential for abuse.

Bradshaw said there are teams of people “hustling” absentees to get votes for their candidates.

“People will bang on doors to get absentee applications and then they bring them in here,” he said. “There are some really organized groups that will ‘help’ them vote. I don’t think they actually mark the ovals (on the ballots) but I wouldn’t doubt that.”

Despite suspicions, it is hard to prove.

“Someone has to make a complaint about it,” Bradshaw said. “Sometimes when they do make a complaint, the board of elections gets involved and the people get upset and don’t want to have anything to do with it. It’s a tough situation.”

Bradshaw said sometimes its local people who are supporting someone and sometimes it’s a statewide or nationwide group.

“It’s like you or I walking up to the polling both and watching them vote,” he said. “It’s abused. But without enough complaints nothing will happen.”