Franklin County Elections Director Ed Leonard gives an update on a ballot printing machine that produced incorrect mail-in ballots for many voters during a press conference at the Board of Elections in Columbus on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (Photo: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH)
Nearly 50,000 voters in Franklin County, Ohio, got the wrong absentee ballots in the mail, county elections officials said Friday.
They promised to get replacement ballots for those 49,669 voters to the post office within three days.
“We want to make it clear that every voter who received an inaccurate ballot will receive a corrected ballot,” the board said in a news release.
President Donald Trump saw something nefarious in what local officials say was an inadvertent error, tweeting: “Breaking News: 50,000 OHIO VOTERS getting WRONG ABSENTEE BALLOTS. Out of control. A Rigged Election!!!”
Asked to comment, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose had this response: “The Franklin County Board of Elections made a serious mistake and they’ve been working hard to correct it. At the same time, it’s so important to remember that Ohio has bipartisan boards of elections for a reason — to ensure our elections are fair and no party has sway over the other.
“Protections are in place to ensure only one ballot is counted for each voter. I’m confident that the Franklin County Board will be transparent in explaining those processes. The bottom line is this: Ohioans can be assured – we will have a safe, secure, and accurate election.”
The county elections board responded on Twitter: “Mr. President, it certainly was a serious mistake, but a serious mistake that we’re working hard to make right. Our board is bipartisan and our elections are fair. And every vote will be counted.”
Under Ohio law, elections board are made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and the elections director must be from the opposite party as the deputy director. The president did not mention that the large majority of Franklin County absentee ballots is going out to registered Democrats, who requested far more of the early ballots than did Republicans.
More: Ohio Democrats dominating absentee ballot requests, possibly creating election night angst
More than one out of every five absentee ballots mailed out in the country was wrong.
And the county narrowly averted having to mail thousands more replacement ballots. Just over 16,000 ballots were ready Monday at board offices for delivery but had not yet been taken to the post office. Those were thrown out and replacements printed once the initial errors were discovered.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office has directed the board to provide a letter explaining the error along with the replacement ballots. The elections board said it is sending a postcard to all those affected.
A list of voters who got the wrong ballots will be posted at the Franklin County Board of Elections website.
The board’s mailing also will include new identification envelopes, sometimes called secrecy envelopes. Voters must put their completed ballot into those smaller envelopes before putting them both into the larger mail envelope to send to the elections board.
The identification envelopes are important. They contain a bar code that uniquely identifies a voter so they can’t cast more than one ballot. That means a ballot without the identification envelope (so-called “naked ballots”) will not be counted.
“No vote will be counted twice. Every voter will receive an accurate ballot, and that ballot will be counted,” county Elections Director Ed Leonard said earlier.
The mess stems from a still-unidentified person who changed the setting on a device that stuffs absentee ballots into mailing envelopes. The mistake, which happened at 2:24 p.m. Saturday, is regarded as inadvertent.
After wrong ballots were mailed to Franklin County residents, elections director Ed Leonard explains what happened.
The Columbus Dispatch
“While this process has taken longer than we’d like, we aren’t just determining a number. We’re determining and identifying each impacted voter,” Leonard said during a news conference Thursday.
The board has been working with its software vendor, Connecticut-based BlueCrest, to determine the scope of the problem and which ballots were affected.
Franklin County already has sent 237,498 absentee ballots to voters who requested them in the first wave of what will be a record turnout of voters planning to cast their ballots by mail.
Extra controls have been placed on the system to ensure that the feature is not disabled again. The system includes an “end-to-end audit trail,” according to a brochure.
Meanwhile, new figures show that the crush of early in-person voting has not slowed in Franklin County.
On all three days so far, turnout has topped 3,300 every day, for a total of more than 10,000 in-person ballots cast through Thursday.
That’s about 45% more than after the initial three days of early voting in 2016
Registered Democrats are maintaining a huge lead over Republicans, casting almost nine times more in-person ballots to date: 6,341 to 725.
Follow Darrel Rowland on Twitter @darreldrowland
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