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Cuyahoga Co. approves ballot collection at libraries, but Secretary of State says sites can't operate

Board of Elections.
File image: Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
Frank LaRose
Posted at 9:43 PM, Sep 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 12:47:41-04

CLEVELAND — Hours after the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections unanimously voted on a bipartisan basis to establish seven temporary collection locations for ballots and ballot applications, the office of Secretary of State Frank LaRose said these sites cannot operate while there is pending litigation about ballot drop boxes.

“I applaud the Board of Elections for their commitment to free and fair elections,” said County Executive Armond Budish in a news release from the county. “People will now be able to stop at a local library pickup location and deliver their ballot or ballot application to a bipartisan team for immediate, secure delivery directly to the Board of Elections.”

The action would have created seven temporary vote-by-mail ballot and ballot application sites staffed by politically-balanced teams, the election board said: six at county and City of Cleveland library branches, and one at Campus International High School, near the county’s Board of Elections, which currently serves as the county’s sole ballot drop location.

Dan Brady, Cuyahoga County Council President said, “I am very pleased with the action taken today by the County Board of Elections. It is very important during this time that we give citizens every opportunity to participate in this important election.”

Maggie Sheehan, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, wrote in a statement:

“Whether we like it or not, this question is still being resolved in the courts. We’re concerned that the Cuyahoga board doing this before this issue is resolved in the courts would cause voter confusion. In light of that, we have ordered the board to cease implementation for now.”

The news release from the county acknowledged pending litigation in Franklin County over numbers of permanent drop boxes, but said this action does not create more permanent drop boxes. Instead, the release said, “It only provides that the agents/staff of the BOE, appointed by the Director, may collect on his behalf voted ballots and applications at convenient locations directly from voters.”

“The behavior of voters has drastically changed due to health concerns surrounding the current pandemic,” said Anthony Perlatti, Director of the Board of Elections, citing an increase in ballot requests, already exceeding the total number ballots cast by mail during the last Presidential General Election. “This tells us that people do not want to travel, and people are avoiding crowded places."

The library branches that were slated to serve as temporary drop sites include:

Cuyahoga County Libraries:

· Fairview Park Branch – 21255 Lorain Road
· North Royalton Branch – 5071 Wallings Road
· S. Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch – 1876 S. Green Road

Cleveland Public Libraries:

· South Brooklyn Branch – 4303 Pearl Road
· Harvard-Lee Branch – 16918 Harvard Avenue
· Glenville Branch – 11900 St. Clair Avenue

The county’s plan would have staffed the library sites on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The temporary location at Campus International was to be staffed on the following dates and times:

Weekdays, October 13 – October 16, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
· Weekdays, October 19 – October 23, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
· Saturday, October 24, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
· Sunday, October 25, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
· Weekdays, October 26 – October 30, 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
· Saturday, October 31, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
· Sunday, November 1, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
· Monday, November 2, 8:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
· Tuesday, November 3, 8:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Also today, LaRose’s plan to spend $3 million to pay for postage on mail-in ballots was rejected by a party-line vote from the Ohio Controlling Board.

RELATED: Start searching for stamps — Ohio board rejects push to pay for return postage on absentee ballots

Jen Miller, executive director for the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the organization was "really disappointed" by the rejection of prepaid postage.

"This is another example of the state of Ohio failing to better serve voters in the middle of a pandemic," Miller said, noting that the League of Women Voters wants as many people as possible to vote absentee in order to keep lines down.

She said the state has talked for years about prepaid postage.

“If you wanted to buy a singular stamp, the only place you can do that is at a post office,” Miller said. “So if you are immunocompromised and you're trying to limit your trips in the public, having to walk into a post office to get a couple stamps for your ballot is not practical.”

Plus, she said, a lot of voters now pay for all their bills online and may not have any stamps, and “if you go to the supermarket, you have to buy an entire book.”

“At a moment in time when we want as many people as possible to vote absentee, which is a secure option here in Ohio, when so many Ohioans are facing drastic financial challenges that have just been absolutely unexpected because of COVID, we can't even get a simple thing like prepaid postage,” Miller said.

She also said the U.S. Postal Service has told the state of Ohio that its timeline for absentee ballot requests is unrealistic and said she does not think the General Assembly and Secretary of State have done enough to change that system.

The League of Women Voters urges people to make a plan for voting early to avoid any potential delays in mail processing and delivery, whether that means voting by mail, voting early in person at your local county board of elections, or heading to the polls on Election Day with your ID to vote in person.

"We want every voter to be able to vote, no matter where they live in Ohio, no matter how they vote or how they believe or what they look like," Miller said. We want every voter to vote because our democracy works best when we all participate."

Miller noted that the state will begin mailing out ballots on October 6.

“As soon as you get it, you should be filling that out and getting it back in the mail or getting it delivered. Immediate family members can drop it off for you,” Miller said.

She urged voters to check www.vote411.org for a nonpartisan voter guide to candidates and to track their ballots.

In East Cleveland, a local nonprofit is trying to help people tackle some of the obstacles to voting.

“I want them to trust us,” said Jacquelyn Adams. “I've been a part of East Cleveland all my life, I've grown up there. My mom still lives there with 50 years, that’s a long time.”

Adams is a board member for Windermere Renaissance, a nonprofit group holding an event on Wednesday, September 16, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot outside the East Cleveland Public Library at 14101 Euclid Avenue. Adams is also a health promotion consultant for Anthem.

The event will be a chance for people to register to vote or fill out an absentee ballot request form if they’re already registered. People can also fill out the 2020 Census form, if they haven’t yet participated, and get COVID-19 testing. Masks will also be given out.

Adams said many people in East Cleveland are scared to provide their information, either for voting, the Census or for COVID testing.

“We're just trying to meet the people where they are,” Adams said, adding that she believes voting is important because those elected make decisions that impact people’s lives.

Among the organizations helping out with the event is the Ohio Voter Fund. Regina Smith with the Ohio Voter Fund said she has been helping people register to vote for many years and has been working with the Ohio Voter Fund for more than 10 years.

“This is something I've been doing since I was 17 years old and I will be 70 this year. So I'm proud to say that,” Smith said.

Smith said people who come to the event can get help registering to vote or filling out an absentee ballot application. She personally is donating 100 stamps and has bought envelopes for people to submit their voter registration forms, and she hopes people will also take the time to fill out their Census forms.

“The city of East Cleveland is going to lose out on so, so much if people don't complete their census,” Smith said.

She added, “We're all out here together and we're all doing the same thing to try to reach out to people.”

Dr. Deborah N. Abdul-Rahim is the current board president for Windermere Renaissance. She said the group’s purpose is “to motivate, encourage and help East Cleveland to restore, to revitalize itself, to redevelop,” with an emphasis on helping with education, health and other social issues.

To the citizens of East Cleveland, she said, “This is a fight for your life, a fight for your health, a fight for your future.”

She added, “We've had a lot of mistrust in our community and rightfully so. However, this group is asking, pleading with you to come out, to be heard, to vote, to register, to get tested.”

Windermere Renaissance’s treasurer, Rev. Stanley Miller, said the most important part of this event is “to bring the community together in a common purpose and a common goal.”

He said that there are some people who haven’t voted since President Obama won.

“They really thought that was it, and they have not voted since,” Miller said. “So there's a number of people out there that don't even know that they're not registered to vote. So I'm hoping that when they show up on the 16th, they'll be able to look into the computer and they can find out whether they are registered or not, and if they're not, as the ladies indicated, they can get them registered so they can be prepared to vote."