CLEVELAND – Voting rights advocates urged Ohio election officials to improve the state’s flawed vote by mail system to ensure fair and safe 2020 elections — particularly in light of Ohio’s upcoming election on April 28th which will be conducted almost entirely by mail, due to COVID-19 concerns. In today’s telephone press briefing, advocates from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, All Voting is Local, and local voting rights organizations warned that voters may be disenfranchised unless Ohio lawmakers and election officials act now for future elections.

All Voting is Local, and its coalition partners in Ohio, also called on officials to keep Ohio voters informed  and expand early voting sites for future elections. Doing so will create the needed conditions to conduct elections that will allow all voters to be heard.

The full audio recording of this call is available here.

“Many Ohioans will vote by mail this election, but safe in-person voting remains essential,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “If grocery stores can develop plans so that people can safely shop for essentials, surely we ought to be able to set up sanitary polling places to allow for our essential duty as citizens. Many communities in Ohio simply will not have full and fair access to the election without in-person voting options. Wisconsin was a warning sign. No one should have to choose between public health and a functioning democracy. The choices we make now will determine not just how we weather the storm of this virus, but also the kind of democracy we will have when it’s over.”

“Officials must act quickly to ensure every voter can access a ballot,” said Mike Brickner, Ohio state director, All Voting is Local. “Last-minute action will only lead to more confusion and fewer people exercising their right to vote. Officials must improve our vote by mail system to ensure voters can submit applications online, prepay postage on all election mail, and invest in public education to ensure voters know how to use the system.”

“To ensure confusion around the Ohio primary is not an obstacle to voting in the primary, Ohio Student Association has been working in partnership with progressive organizations to conduct a rapid digital and text response program to reach voters with an easy-to-understand overview of the new, temporary voting process,” said Prentiss Haney, executive director of the Ohio Student Association. “The Ohio Organizing Collaborative has led the peer-to-peer texting program by providing organizations  access to their peer-to-peer texting platform, Outvote. As of today we have trained over 250 volunteers, have 365 volunteers engaged in the campaign and have reached more than 225,000 voters.”

“A functioning democracy is an essential building block to a healthy, safe, and economically vibrant Buckeye State,” said Jen Miller, executive director, League of Women Voters of Ohio. “Ohio must act now to shore up the special election in August and the general elections in November, by sending prepaid ballots to all voters, expanding early voting, and requiring counties to conduct public health planning. But in the age of superbugs and climate change, that is also not enough, Ohio needs to have a plan in place for unexpected emergencies beyond 2020 as well.”