Absentee Ballot Requests Cropping Up in Front Yards, Churches

September 10, 2020by Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) (TNS)
Tiffany Rumbalski sits beside the voting materials, including absentee ballot requests, that she's providing outside her home in Hilliard, Ohio on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. The inflatable tyrannosaurus rex, Vinny Voter, helps draw attention to the display and encourage passers by to take the free materials and get a selfie. (Adam Cairns/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As Ohioans stake the names of their preferred candidates in the November election outside their homes, a new form of activism is showing up alongside the traditional candidate yard signs.

Absentee ballot requests, voter registration forms and other nonpartisan information about how to vote are cropping up in front yards, on street corners and in churches across the state.

The goal, organizers say, is to increase participation in what could be a record-setting election turnout during a global pandemic.

“I always want a high voter turnout. When we get a high voter turnout, we get the representatives that people actually want,” said Tiffany Rumbalski, part of the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition. “The coronavirus really put a wrench in all of that.”

Rumbalski placed laminated posters with information about voting and QR codes that can be scanned by a cellphone outside her Hilliard home, alongside a plastic box that contains absentee ballot requests and voter registration forms.

Anyone is free to take the information, Rumbalski said, and she encouraged people to take a selfie alongside the inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex, Vinny Voter, for social media.

“When I see people go by, I see people laugh, but a few forms have been taken. Mostly people have been curious,” she said, noting that Vinny has his own Instagram account @vinnyvoter.

During the Ohio primary in the spring, similar grassroots efforts cropped up to get absentee ballot requests to voters. The General Assembly adopted a plan to conduct the primary almost entirely by mail after Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration closed the polls hours before they were to open. That action was taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Voters still had to submit a request for an absentee ballot, though, and slowdowns in mail delivery put pressure on local boards of elections to smooth the process.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has said he is committed to having in-person voting on Election Day even though the virus still is spreading across the state. He has encouraged voters to cast absentee ballots to avoid going to the polls, though, and is mailing a request to every registered voter in the state.

LaRose has estimated that as many as half of the ballots cast in Ohio for the general election will be absentee votes.

With the Postal Service expected to struggle under the weight of delivering more absentee ballots, LaRose and voting rights groups have encouraged voters to get their applications in early to ensure they arrive on time.

Typically, volunteers for those groups would use large events to tell voters exactly what the challenges are and what they need to do to vote. But most of those events have been canceled because of the pandemic.

The organizations that typically would be holding voter registration drives and handing out information at festivals and at other in-person activities are changing their tactics.

Common Cause Ohio has given out materials for about 150 voter information boxes, said Mia Lewis, the organization’s campaign director.

The information is all nonpartisan, she said. The group ordered “Realtor boxes” that normally are used to post leaflets outside of houses that are for sale. Now, though, they hold voter registration forms, absentee ballot requests and information about voting.

Common Cause also is providing signs that have a QR code that redirect to LaRose’s website.

“The idea is not just to provide the forms, which is really important, but to also help voters with education,” she said.

Mary Klain said she worked on voter registration drives in 2018 and needed a distraction from the coronavirus this year, so she posted the forms and signs outside her corner lot in North Linden.

“My neighborhood is a mixed-race, mixed socioeconomic neighborhood. It’s one of the places where voter turnout isn’t great,” she said.

So far, about a dozen absentee ballot request forms have been taken along with three voter registration forms, she said. She replenishes the forms daily.

Worthington resident Debby Cooper said 27 packets have been taken from her information box so far, and one of her neighbors installed their own box shortly after she advertised hers on Facebook.

“That’s the good type of competition to have,” she said.

The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus also is working with social services providers, such as food banks, to provide information directly to prospective voters. The group also is working with churches on drive-by registrations and occasionally setting up tables outside events, said Barb Hykes, the chapter’s president.

The Ohio Council of Churches has been working with its members to distribute voter information boxes that can be placed at churches.

The boxes and voting information already are in about 20 churches, said Brandi Slaughter, policy director with the Ohio Council of Churches, and the group hopes to place 20 more.

“Even if they take the form, you can’t predict who will show up. But the easier you make elections, the more accessible you make elections, I think the better our democracy is,” she said.

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© 2020The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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