ST. CLAIRSVILLE - This fall every registered voter in Ohio will receive an absentee ballot application in the mail in time for the Nov. 6 presidential election, said Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
There are more than 6 million registered voters in the state, and the cost of printing and postage for the mailing will be about $3 million, he added. The applications will go out shortly after Labor Day to all registered voters - whether they want one or not.
Voters will receive a letter from Husted asking the potential absentee voter for their name, address and date of birth, as well as the last four digits of their Social Security number or Ohio driver's license.
The application section of the letter then is mailed by the voter to their respective county board of election, where workers will check to verify the information and then send the registered voter an absentee ballot, Husted said. He noted voting by mail is becoming more popular in the state.
"There are three times (the absentee ballot) gets checked - once when in goes to the voter, once the voter requests and a third when they return it," Husted commented. "I believe it is as secure as to vote on Election Day."
Husted said it was his idea to send out the absentee ballot applications to all Ohio voters to address a problem he believes existed in Ohio. He said he saw a lack of uniformity across the state in how absentee ballot applications were distributed.
"In some counties, they would send out these absentee ballots, and in some counties they wouldn't," Husted said. "In some counties they voted on Sundays, and others didn't."
He said having different rules in different counties was objectionable to him, and that this practice raised equal protection issues under the U.S. Constitution.
"I wanted some uniformity in this, and worked with Legislature to see (Help America Vote Act) dollars were appropriated for the purpose," Husted added.
And absentee voting has its advantages, he continued.
"When you vote by mail, you don't even have to leave your house to cast your ballot," he said. "When you have your ballot at home, you can do your research. You can read the section out of your newspaper that tells you about your election. You can look up things online. You can be a more informed voter if you take the time to do it, and a lot of people like that."
Jefferson County Board of Elections Director Diane Gribble said the county had 8,000 absentee ballots during the 2008 presidential election. The secretary of state's office is telling counties to expect about one in two voters in the previous presidential election will opt for the absentee ballot this year. If that is true, Jefferson County could see absentee ballots increase to 18,000, Gribble said.
While the state is footing the bill for mailing the applications, the county will have to pay for the actual mailing of the absentee ballots. Gribble said it costs about $1.60 to mail a two-page absentee ballot. If 18,000 registered voters ask for an absentee ballot, the cost will be $30,000.
She said the board of elections will have to hire additional workers to handle the processing of mailing and receiving the absentee ballots.
"The budget we were given (by the county commissioners) is not going to hold up through the election," she said.
(Staff writer Mark Law contributed to this report.)