Ohioans Won’t Know Official Election Results for Weeks, Secretary of State Says
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose warned voters during a Tuesday news conference that results reported after the polls close on Election Day will be strictly unofficial, and he said state law bars his office and county boards of elections from reporting any additional results until the official canvass is completed weeks later.
With as many as half of Ohio voters expected to cast absentee ballots, that means results hanging on a thin margin could change in the official results, and it could be nearly Thanksgiving before those are reported.
“The numbers will change between election night and the final certification. That’s not a sign of something nefarious. In fact it’s the contrary. It’s a sign of the system working like it’s supposed to,” LaRose said.
Ohio law requires county boards of elections to count any absentee ballot that is postmarked by Election Day as long as it arrives at the board within 10 days of the election.
LaRose predicted that “tens, probably hundreds, of thousands” of absentee ballots could still be out and uncounted on election night but still arrive in time to legally be counted.
A candidate declaring victory based on the unofficial election night results, particularly in a tight race, is a “nightmare scenario,” he said.
The secretary of state’s office is trying to combat that by reporting the number of absentee ballots that are still outstanding when results are reported on election night. If a candidate wins the state by 50,000 votes, but 100,000 absentee ballots still are not returned, the result could change.
Ohioans won’t get a progress report between election night and the official results either. LaRose said state law doesn’t allow for any additional results reporting after the initial report until the official canvass is completed.
Ohio law requires the official canvass to be done within 21 days of Election Day. That means boards would have until Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving, to compile the final result.
LaRose has predicted record turnout for the election and said that he expects as many as half of voters to cast absentee ballots. His office sent absentee ballot requests to Ohio’s 7.8 million registered voters, and local boards of elections already have been dealing with an unprecedented flood of requests.
He also has asked the Ohio Controlling Board to allow him to use $3 million in revenue his office generates from business filings to pay for return postage on ballots. The request is on the board’s Sept. 14 agenda, but it’s unclear whether he has the support needed for approval.
State law prohibits county boards of elections from paying for postage, but it does not prevent the secretary of state from doing so. LaRose plans to buy first-class postage stamps and then provide them to county boards.
House Republicans already approved a bill earlier this year that would ban LaRose from paying for postage, and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof has expressed skepticism about the legal footing.
“Every argument I’ve heard against it so far has been based on false premises,” LaRose said Tuesday.
“I have not heard any reasonable policy argument against it.”
Ohio’s Congressional Democrats sent LaRose a letter on Tuesday that urges the secretary to use his “existing authority” to pay for postage. Those same elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, sent the Controlling Board a letter last month encouraging them to approve the request.
“We support your request to use business funds to prepay postage on absentee ballots, but given the time lag in approval from the controlling board, we urge you to allocate existing funds that do not require controlling board approval,” they wrote in the letter.
LaRose has said he cannot spend money on postage without the board’s consent.
On Tuesday, LaRose also warned voters again about the spread of disinformation leading up to the election. Asked if President Donald Trump’s urging voters who cast absentee ballots by mail to also vote in person, which is illegal, qualified as disinformation, LaRose said it was not.
“What I’m more so talking about when we’re talking about reporting disinformation is when there’s a paid and persistent effort or an organized effort online to spread false information intentionally. Certainly public officials misspeak from time to time or say something that needs to be corrected,” he said.
“Certainly (Trump’s comment) doesn’t fall in the disinformation protocol that our office has set up. But it does fall into the category of I guess what you would call misinformation, where something incorrect was said and it’s my responsibility as secretary of state to make sure that Ohioans know the facts.”
Those facts, LaRose said, are the Ohioans will be allowed to vote only once, and could be prosecuted for voting multiple times if “intentionality” can be proven.
“That’s not something Ohioans should do. Ohioans should know they’re only going to be allowed to vote once. They shouldn’t try to vote multiple times,” he said.
©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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