Thousands of Ohio absentee applications denied

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Thousands of Ohio voters were held up or stymied in their efforts to get absentee ballots for last year’s general election because of missing or mismatched signatures on their ballot applications, an Associated Press review has found.

The signature requirement on such applications is a largely overlooked and spottily tracked step in Ohio’s voting process, which has shifted increasingly to mail-in ballots since early, no-fault absentee voting was instituted in 2005.

To supporters, the requirement is a useful form of protection against voter fraud and provides an extra layer of security necessary for absentee balloting.

To detractors, it’s a recipe for disenfranchisement — a cumbersome addition to an already stringent voter identification system.

Susan Barnard, of Dayton in Montgomery County, said her 78-year-old husband, Leslie, who has cancer, missed a chance to vote last year because of a delay related to the signature requirement.

Voters cast their ballots in Gates Mills, Ohio. PHOTO: AP

“We had planned a cruise last fall to give him something to look forward to,” said Barnard, 73. “It fell at the time of the election, and we were going to vote the absentee ballot. We got right down to the wire and we didn’t have one for him, and so he did not vote because of that.”

She said he had hoped to vote in the election, which included races for governor, state Supreme Court and Congress. Barnard suspects her husband simply forgot to sign his ballot application.

Figures provided to the AP through public information requests to Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections show 21 counties rejected more than 6,500 absentee ballot applications because a signature was either missing or didn’t match what was on file. That requirement is not for the ballot itself, which faces a different battery of requirements, but merely for an application requesting one. Another five counties reported rejecting about 850 applications combined, for various reasons that the boards didn’t specify.

The few counties that tracked what happened to applications after they were rejected said issues were largely addressed before or on Election Day.

Twelve responding counties recorded encountering no signature issues with the absentee applications. The remaining responding counties said they didn’t track how many applications they rejected.

It’s a statistic conspicuously absent from all the official data collected by the state, making it all but impossible to compare the issue across years or multiple states.

Signatures and other verification requirements are there to safeguard Ohio’s elections, said state Rep John Becker, a southwestern Ohio Republican. He said if a voter fails to sign the application form, “that’s on them.”