What do you do as a member of the Knox County Board of Elections?

Elections in Ohio are administered at the county level. Each of Ohio’s 88 counties has a board of elections led by four members — two Democrats and two Republicans, appointed by and reporting to the secretary of state. We function like any other organizational board, meeting periodically and overseeing operations. The day-to-day work is done by staff, led by a director and deputy director, who are highly trained in election processes and do phenomenal work.

Can people request an absentee ballot in case they decide not to vote in person and then still vote in person?

Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: While you have the ability to do this, it’s simpler and less confusing for everybody involved if a voter who receives an absentee ballot fills out and returns that ballot, instead of deciding not to return it and then voting on Election Day. 

Here’s why: If you have received, but not returned, an absentee ballot and show up at the polling place to vote in-person on Election Day, you will have to vote a provisional ballot. This is done to ensure that you only vote once. Provisional ballots are placed in a sealed envelope, and the eligibility of the vote is considered later, which means these votes are not included in the unofficial, election night tally of votes. After a 10-day period following Election Day, provisional ballots are considered. If they are determined to be valid votes, the envelopes are opened, the ballots are removed and then counted, and they are all included in the official vote count that the board certifies. In the scenario we’re talking about, the provisional ballot will only be opened and counted after it’s determined that the voter did not also return the absentee ballot. This ensures the voter only votes one time.

All this said: If Election Day comes around and you have not returned your absentee ballot for whatever reason, either return it to the board of elections office before polls close at 7:30 p.m., or vote in-person at your polling place. Don’t pass on your right to vote.

How will voting proceed given the COVID-19 pandemic?

As in every election, voting will be a combination of early voting (both by mail and in person) and Election Day voting at polling places. In-person absentee voting is conducted at the Knox County Board of Elections, 104 East Sugar Street, beginning Oct. 6, 2020. All county boards of elections follow the same office hours for in-person early voting, which you can find here. We have made adjustments to Election Day voting in response to the pandemic. For example, we have moved polling places away from two facilities for senior citizens — a residential facility and an activity center. Three other polling places were moved to larger facilities to allow for sufficient physical distancing for both poll workers and voters. The secretary of state has issued health guidance for in-person voting, which describes in detail the procedures that must be followed at polling places to allow for appropriate physical distancing, personal protective equipment and mask wearing and availability, surface and equipment sanitation, and so forth. Masks are required in polling places, and voters who refuse to wear masks to vote will be offered curbside voting, in which poll workers meet the voter outside the polling place. The secretary of state has instructed that all voters must be allowed to vote.

Who can sign up to serve as a poll worker and what’s the process of being a poll worker?

Poll workers must be qualified electors registered to vote in the county where they are serving as poll workers — in our case, a registered voter in Knox County. All poll workers must undergo training and work the entire day on Election Day. For more information, contact Peggy Hockenberry, who handles poll worker recruitment, training and placement for the board.

Which ballots are counted first? Will ballots be counted differently, given the uptick in the amount of mail-in ballots this election?

Absentee ballots (both in-person and mail-in) are counted first in Ohio, with that count reported soon after polls close at 7:30 p.m. Boards will process ballots as they are returned but will only tabulate the vote after polls close.

What advice do you have for Kenyon students who are looking to get involved with encouraging and supporting other students to register and vote?

Kenyon students, like all other residential college students in the United States, have the right to consider the place where they reside as students to be their residence and to vote in that residence. Kenyon students have a long history of registering to vote in Gambier and participating in elections, so my advice is to continue that long, proud tradition. You are residents of Knox County during your residency in Gambier, and you have the full right to participate in elections here as a resident. Just make sure you register to vote by the Oct. 5, 2020, deadline. And, don’t forget, when your time in Gambier is complete and you move to another place and register to vote there, to notify the board to cancel your Knox County voter registration. This will ensure that registered voter lists are accurate and that Gambier will only be divided into as many precincts as are needed.