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Write a Letter to the Editor Demanding Changes to Safeguard Ohio’s Elections

We only have a small window to push for crucial improvements to Ohio’s elections system, and we need your help. A letter to the editor can be a simple but enormously powerful way for you to pitch in and strengthen democracy in Ohio. Here you’ll find guidance on why letters to the editor matter, how we can write them, and how to submit them.

BACKGROUND

Why a letter to the editor? 

We write letters to the editor because many elected officials keep close track of opinion pieces published in their district. If constituents are fired up enough to write a letter to the editor and call on their lawmaker to enact a change, then it’s an indicator of high energy in the community. 

Wait, what’s a letter to the editor again? 

It’s a small opinion piece, usually under 200 words, that anyone in the newspaper’s readership can submit. It’s often in response to an article in the paper, but it’s perfectly fine for a letter to merely voice an opinion on a community or political issue. Editors like to think of their opinion section as a forum reflecting the community’s thinking on different issues, and they like pieces that advance how we think about issues. 

When should I submit a letter to the editor?

As soon as possible! The legislature is only in session through the end of June, so we’ll want our opinions to shape the debate on democracy and elections while lawmakers are making up their minds. So, you should take action ASAP. Still, don’t be discouraged if it took you a little longer. Just go ahead and submit it.

How to Structure a Letter to the Editor

Since you only have 150-200 words (in most cases), it’s smart to stick to a tight structure. Here is a sample structure:

Brief Background

  • The pandemic has shown how Ohioans of all backgrounds can come together and support each other. But it also made clear that democracy is facing a moment of crisis here in Ohio. 
  • The primary election laid this bare. The primary process was confusing and hasty. There was too little time to vote and not enough clear information, among many other problems. 
  • The layers and levels of confusion and error were many — and most could have been prevented with adequate preparation.
  • As a result, experts estimate that thousands of Ohioans did not get their right to vote. 

What is happening?

  • The Ohio legislature is in session, and they have an opportunity to develop workable solutions to the challenges voters and Boards of Elections faced during the 2020 Ohio primary. 

What is your demand?

  • We must reform the way Ohio conducts elections. The legislature has to transition us to primarily vote-by-mail while maintaining in-person voting if it can be done safely. This will require a significant investment of both time and resources to ensure voter participation, including changes to the process to make it considerably more accessible.

Reiterate call to action

  • [legislator XXX] should rise to the occasion and stand for democracy. 

Where should I submit my letter to the editor? 

You should submit a letter to the editor to your local paper. This process works best — and editors like it — when it’s local readers who are hashing out their thoughts. Therefore you are more likely to be successful if your letter is submitted to your local newspaper. 

Your local newspaper will likely have a webpage listing guidelines — this will be important to find. Often, that same webpage will feature the portal for you to submit the letter itself. Alternatively, it will provide you an email address where you can submit your text. Here are the pages for some of the larger newspapers in Ohio: 

Cleveland Plain-Dealer/cleveland.com

Cincinnati Enquirer/cincinnati.com

Columbus Dispatch/dispatch.com

Toledo Blade

Dayton Daily News (two forms: here and here)

Youngstown Vindicator

Akron Beacon Journal (write to vop@thebeaconjournal.com)

Most of these pages are accessible through a simple Internet search, such as “[name of newspaper] letter to the editor submission guidelines.”

The op-ed project also has information on how to submit opinion pieces, or letters to the editor, to different newspapers. That’s available here.

Issue Briefing: Urgent Changes Needed to Safeguard Ohio’s Elections

Ohio’s Secretary of State, the Ohio Association of Election Officials, and the Ohio Voting Rights Coalition all agree: our legislature must act now to ensure Ohioans can vote successfully, safely, and securely in November. The lessons learned during Ohio’s chaotic and inadequate primary can guide us to ensure safe, fair, and secure elections, whether or not there is a resurgence of COVID-19. 

Here’s more about why we need to act now and the specific policy reforms needed. 

Why Ohio needs to act now

This is clearly a moment of crisis for our democracy in Ohio. A hasty transition in the primary to mostly vote-by-mail, combined with a too-short voting period, confusing changes of date, an unduly complicated application process, and inadequate outreach to voters resulted in an election that disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohioans. The layers and levels of confusion and error were many — and most could have been prevented with adequate preparation.

There are many changes that we can responsibly make to ensure voter participation in our election this fall is maximized, even if there are some things for which we cannot plan. Given that Covid-19 will likely remain a public health threat for the remainder of this year, the Ohio General Assembly must enact legislation ASAP. With the legislature expected to be out for summer break by the end of June, and time needed to implement changes, the legislature must act now.

In order to ensure that millions of Ohioans don’t have to choose between participating in our democracy or risking their health, we must reform the way Ohio conducts elections. While switching to a mostly vote-by-mail election seems the obvious solution, the problem in Ohio is that 85 percent of Ohioans normally vote in person on election day. That means that switching to primarily vote-by-mail (we certainly want to maintain in-person voting if it can be done safely) cannot be accomplished without a significant investment of both time and resources to ensure voter participation, including changes to the process to make it considerably more accessible.

Over the course of the next several weeks, the state legislature, election officials and voting rights advocates have a critical opportunity to develop workable solutions to the challenges voters and Boards of Elections faced during the 2020 Ohio primary. 

We’re sure you are aware that the Secretary of State is also pushing hard for election administration fixes to be up and running in time for the August and November 2020 elections. The Ohio Association of Elections Officials as well as other stakeholder groups have also put forward practical suggestions on how to improve our election processes. There is broad consensus around many of the proposals.  

The following modifications would significantly improve vote-by-mail and ensure safer in-person voting:

Fully fund a vote-by-mail program to encourage Ohio voters to vote from home. Mailing every voter an application to cast an absentee ballot and providing prepaid postage for both the application and the ballot will incentivize vote-by-mail.  

Permit online absentee ballot requests. Ohio needs to modernize its process for submitting absentee ballot requests. Our paper-based application system is outdated. Voters can already register to vote online, and it makes sense that we can also apply to vote-by-mail through the Secretary of State’s website. This cost-saving measure provides convenience for voters and efficiencies for Boards of Elections.  Additionally, campaigns and civically-minded Ohioans can use social media to easily encourage applying to vote-by-mail. SB191 has already had three committee hearings without any opposition testimony.  

Permit more than one early vote center and multiple secure drop boxes per county. Ohio law currently prohibits counties from having more than one early voting location, which is challenging for voters with limited transportation. Both urban and rural voters often have to travel long distances to utilize the absentee dropbox or to vote early-in person.

Make Ohio’s absentee system more accessible. Allow absentee voters to designate additional individuals, beyond immediate family members, to transport their absentee ballots; allow absentee ballots to be dropped off at any polling location in the proper county on Election Day, count all ballots received up to ten days after Election Day, even if the postmark is missing. Currently, grandchildren are not permitted to return a grandparent’s ballot. Expanding those who are permitted to return a ballot for voters to include the extended family, neighbors and co-workers simply makes sense. 

Create a permanent absentee voter list. Provide voters with the option of automatically receiving an absentee ballot in future elections. This reform will provide a measure of consistency for voters amid Ohio’s confusing practice of mailing absentee applications to registered voters in even-years only. 

Improve Poll worker recruitment. Many of Ohio’s poll workers are seniors aged 65 and over, placing them among those most vulnerable to COVID-19. It is likely that many who have worked the polls in the past will opt to stay home, making it especially challenging to staff polling places for in-person voting. OVRC supports proposals to allow 16 and 17 year olds to work the polls.

Maintain and improve the infrastructure for in-person voting. Whatever improvements we make in our vote-by-mail system, and whether or not COVID-19 has impacted our usual election day routines, we need to ensure safe and accessible options for in-person voting. Voting in-person offers voters with disabilities the opportunity to vote privately and independently. Transient voters rely on in-person voting options if they are not able to receive mail. Black and brown communities with a long history of voter suppression have a strong tradition and preference for voting in person so that they can see their ballots being cast. Survivors of domestic violence and those in controlling relationships may prefer to cast in-person ballots. Rural voters are often deeply impacted by mail delays, and may prefer to vote in-person, or need to utilize a conveniently located drop box to return their ballots on time. 

Additional Resources

Vote At Home: This organization has a gold mine of resources about Vote By Mail, including this two-minute video about vote-by-mail, and this four-page informational flyer about vote-by-mail. 

The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud, by Wendy Weiser and Harold Ekah, Brennan Center for Justice, 4/10/2020

Point: Vote-by-Mail Is Essential, by  Sylvia Albert, Common Cause. Inside Sources, 5/11/2020

What Congress and states must do to have safe and fair elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, by Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause. The Hill, 5/11/2020

Ohio Sec. of State: Action needed now to prep for November election with possible coronavirus resurgence, by Doug Livingston. Akron Beacon Journal, 5/14/2020

Accessing the Vote During a Pandemic, Bipartisan Policy Center, May 2020. 

Logical Election Policy, Bipartisan Policy Center, May 2020.

Q&A with additional information about voting by mail: 

How long has Ohio had vote-by-mail? What’s the difference between absentee voting and vote-by-mail? Ohioans have been able to cast an absentee ballot by mail for decades but it wasn’t until 2006 that Ohio voters didn’t have to have an excuse like travel or illness. “No fault absentee” voting or voting by mail has gained in popularity since then. The 2020 Primary was the first election in which most voters cast absentee ballots or voted by mail. Some states are considered vote-by-mail states because the voters predominantly vote using the mail. States like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington send ballots to all voters, rather than relying on a two-step process where voters have to submit an application to vote-by-mail. 

Is there a way to allow all voters to vote-by-mail, while still preserving the community aspect of in-person voting? Ohioans can return their vote-by-mail ballots to the Board of Elections in-person rather than mailing them in. Colorado has drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots in many communities which helps preserve the important act of casting a vote by putting it in the ballot box. Ohio currently permits County Boards of Elections to provide one drop box per county at the Board of Elections or Early Vote site. Expanding the number of drop boxes would encourage vote-by-mail while fostering an experience similar to in-person ballot casting. These drop boxes also ensure that the ballots are properly delivered to the Board of Elections. In Colorado, voters sometimes get together for ballot parties in which they discuss their choices and debate the issues. 

How does funding the US Postal Service impact vote-by-mail? The pandemic has hit the Postal Service hard; without financial support from the federal government, the agency faces possible bankruptcy. The Postal Service normally runs without taxpayer funds and relies on its profits, but without an infusion of cash, regular mail delivery could be interrupted. It is important to keep in mind that rural areas of the country rely on the Postal service for the delivery of vital goods, including medicine. In March, the Trump administration nixed a bipartisan proposal to provide $13 billion to the Postal Service. This is particularly problematic in light of the need to expand vote-by-mail. In order for vote-by-mail to work, we need reliable mail. 

Should we be worried about fraudulent or insecure vote-by-mail in Ohio? We need to ensure that voting is both safe and secure. There are procedures to ensure that only eligible votes are counted: voter identification (last 4 digits of the Social Security number or driver’s license number), appropriate address, and signature-match. Only the voter and his/her/their immediate family are permitted to return the vote-by-mail ballot to the Board of Elections. In order to vote by mail, the voter has to prove their identity twice, once on the application and once on the ballot. With these safeguards, boards of elections are able to detect irregularities. 

Do voters support vote-by-mail? A national poll conducted in March, found that 70% of Ohioans support voting by mail. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington (states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail) supported this system of voting by more than 71%. Conservative Utah approved of vote-by-mail by 82%.  

Is voting by mail cheaper or more expensive than in-person voting? There is no easy answer to this question. An initial investment to promote vote-by-mail may be more expensive, but costs could then go down over the long term. However, it is important to invest in the infrastructure of democracy. The Brennan Center for Justice has estimated the cost: at least $4 billion to support Boards of Elections all over the country. In the third coronavirus stimulus bill, Congress has appropriated $400 million for the states to help them with election administration.  

Does vote-by-mail advantage one political party over the other? A Stanford University study released in April found that voting by mail wasn’t an advantage for either party. Click here for prior studies 

Lee Drutman of New America describes the partisan impact this way: “In short: voting by mail is more convenient for some voters but more difficult for others, and these conflicting factors appear to cancel each other out, dampening any partisan advantage.” 

Is this a partisan issue? No. Lawmakers and commentators from both ends of the political spectrum support improving vote-by-mail. Recent articles in conservative media, such as, the Washington Times, National Review, and the American Enterprise Institute have published pieces in favor of vote-by-mail. During Ohio’s problematic primary, populations that lean on both sides of the isle were affected negatively, such as seniors and rural Ohioans as well as students and voters of color.

How does vote-by-mail impact voter turnout? Oregon and Washington, the states that pioneered all-mail elections, have long been among the highest-turnout states in presidential elections. A 2013 study of voters in Washington by professors from Yale University and the University of California-San Diego, found that voting by mail increased turnout by two to four percentage points. There was also a 2012 study that found no boost to turnout. Nevertheless, even if there is no net gain, it’s still an increase in options for voters.