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Counter Points is written by WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson. In it, he shares insights on political news on the local, state and national level that impacts the 2020 election. Counter Points is delivered once a week on Wednesdays and will cease publication soon after the November election is decided.

Hamilton County Preparing For Final Ballot Count

hamilton county board of elections
Bill Rinehart

The Hamilton County Board of Elections is a step closer to issuing certified results for the delayed March primary election.

When that count is completed Thursday morning, it will include 3,322 ballots that were not included in the unofficial results. Those were released in the early morning hours of April 29. The deadline to submit absentee ballots to the board was April 28.

The Board of Elections met Tuesday morning and voted to add 2,381 provisional ballots to the total. At the same time, the board voted to reject 723 provisional ballots.

In addition, the board received 941 absentee ballots that had the correct postmark of no later than April 27, and those arrived between April 28 and May 8.

The 3,322 ballots could have an impact on Issue 7, the 0.8% sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and pay for some infrastructure projects in the county.

On April 28, the unofficial results showed the levy was approved by just 625 votes. There 65,943 votes in favor of the issue, and 65,318 with no votes.

If Issue 7 is ultimately approved, the sales tax would become the primary funding source for SORTA.  And the city of Cincinnati's 0.3% earnings tax, now used to fund transit, would be repealed.

The official count could also impact the Democratic county commission race between Alicia Reece and Connie Pillich. The unofficial count had Reece leading by 1,851 votes.

Reece and Pillich are running for the seat that had been held by Todd Portune. 

Officials at the Board of Elections will now be scanning the additional ballots, and those results will be approved by the board Thursday morning.

So why were 723 provisional ballots rejected? Here's a breakdown:

  • 249 of the people were not registered to vote
  • 7 of the envelopes had no signature
  • 12 provided no identification, or what was provided did not match board records
  • 4 of the envelope signatures did not match the signatures on file with the board
  • 5 people completed the envelope, but there was no ballot inside the envelope
  • 5 people had voted an absentee ballot, and voted a provisional ballot
  • 1 did not contain the required printed name
  • 1 person did not live in Hamilton County
  • 4 envelopes listed no address
  • 11 did not contain a date of birth
  • 70 were received after the April 28 deadline, had a late postmark, no postmark, or a smeared postmark that was unreadable
  • 354 people voted in person on April 28 and did not meet the exceptions for voting "in person" that day.  The only people who were supposed to vote that day were those with disabilities, those who were homeless or had no mailing address, or had requested an absentee ballot that never arrived in the mail.

Board of Elections Member Caleb Faux questioned rejecting ballots with a smeared or unreadable postmark.  He called it troubling.
"It's entirely possible that these voters did everything that they were supposed to have done, filled out their ballot, dropped it at the post office in a timely fashion," Faux said. "And through no fault of their own, simply the fact that there is no legible postmark, their ballot is being thrown out and they did nothing wrong at all."

The board's attorney said directives from the Ohio Secretary of State's office mandate the absentee ballots must have a legible postmark.

Officials are contacting the U.S. Postal Service about the issues especially since there could be more voting by mail during the November election because of the continued concerns about the coronavirus.

Ohio's Health Director issued an order late on March 16 suspending the March 17 primary because of concerns about spreading COVID-19.

Ohio lawmakers voted in March to make the primary vote by mail with a few exceptions.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.