Adulting 2020: Wear a Mask, Wash Your Hands, and Make a Voting Plan

For generations, Ohioans have planned their voting around in-person poll hours and, for some, early voting at the Board of Elections. While other states transitioned to predominantly or exclusively vote-by-mail, the use of “absentee ballots” for voting from home still seems like a less-than-charming novelty to many. 

Much like graduation ceremonies and block parties, voting in-person is a cherished cultural event that means a lot to people and may be hard to give up in a pandemic year. Voting in person may be nostalgic, bringing memories of going to polls as a young child — some of us even remember the fascinating old voting booths with the big handle to open/close the curtains. 

For others, voting in-person is laden with deep meaning because of this nation’s long history of devaluing groups of people, as demonstrated by obstructing the right to vote based on a person’s race, age, or gender. 

And for others, voting in-person is the final step in a long immigration journey– stepping into the polling booth represents a triumph of years of migration and legal steps to citizenship.

But in a pandemic year, as we learned so painfully last March, all bets are off when it comes to the sentimentality of voting in-person.  Now we know that polls can be closed on short notice — even the night before Election Day — due to public health precautions. 

None of us wants to re-experience the uncertainty and debacle of Ohio’s 2020 Primary Election. To avoid sitting anxiously until Election Day, voters are encouraged to create and activate a voting plan — today. 

Here are your voting choices, ranked by degree of pandemic risk/anxiety inducement: 

VOTING METHOD                Pandemic Risks Pandemic Plus+
Vote by mail (AKA “absentee ballot”) 
  • High turnout may lead to a September/October log-jam as BOE’s process applications
  • Two-step process; must start early — especially if any pandemic disruptions to BOE staffing/processes 
  • Forms can be rejected for minor errors, so voters need to allow time to fix things if an application isn’t processed with ease
  • Able to begin the process now and dedicate time to helping others do the same
  • Vote from home safely, without any exposure to public places
  • Deliver your ballot to BOE dropbox for that sentimental polling booth vibe … or place it in the mail
  • No campaigners on site 
  • Track your application and ballot online at 
Vote early, in-person at the Board of Elections (BOE)
  • Must wait in line and vote in a public setting, risking viral exposure
  • Compared to polls/precincts, the BOE is not as vulnerable to closure due to pandemic surges
Vote on Election Day at the polls
  • Must wait in line and vote in a public setting, risking viral exposure
  • Polls can be closed on short notice if there is a pandemic surge, in which case your vote could be jeopardized
  • None

Just like paying bills and getting an annual physical, voters need to confirm their voter registration months before each Election Day; and be planful about how they will vote. 

Voting activist groups strongly encourage all Ohioans to plan to vote by mail. Because it is a two-step process in which errors are possible, the best practice is to go online right now — here’s the link — and create your Application to Vote by Mail. 

If you don’t have a printer, you can do one of two things: handwrite a request, as long as it includes all of the information listed here, or you can pick up a form at a local library that still has lobby services.

Reluctant to send your ballot via snail mail? Check with your local library to see if it still provides a lobby dropoff service, or drop it off at the BOE 24-hour dropbox. 

Think you’re all done? Not so fast! You should check that your application is processed properly.

Check your status online here. Look for the Track My Ballot tab.

Once you have formally requested your Application to Vote by Mail, experts say it’s your civic responsibility to educate and encourage other adults about the benefits of voting by mail and the importance of applying NOW to avoid the expected surge in applications this fall. 

Voting activist groups are working hard to flatten a different type of curve this summer. Boards of Election staff manually process and respond to each paper application that arrives. That’s right–it’s old school. So if most voters wait until the Secretary of State mails applications around Labor Day, the BOEs will be flooded with requests to the degree that ballots may not be received in time to meet the mail-by deadline. (The deadline itself is a bit of a moving target right now.)

Do not risk this. While it’s appropriate for Secretary of State LaRose to mail an application to every registered voter during a pandemic year, don’t wait for the September mailing. Be an engaged adult and click here to print or handwrite your own; sign and mail it today. 

In Cuyahoga County, click here to request an Application + Return Envelope be mailed to you. Or use the same link to download a pre-populated PDF (that includes a secret code to expedite processing!) and mail from home. (Okay, it’s not a secret code — but it is your Voter ID Number and means that staff do not need to manually enter information, thereby saving time and reducing errors.) If you are outside of Cuyahoga County, call your BOE and ask if they have this feature.

Once you’ve mailed your application, remember your civic duty and start talking with others about their Voting Plans. Ask how you can help with those plans. For instance, we know that some community members do not have access to a printer —especially with libraries curtailing lobby services due to the pandemic. Offer to print for neighbors and community members. You can even prepare envelopes to go with the forms.

According to expert Sue Dean-Dyke of Mobilize the Vote 2020, another population that needs encouragement is young adults. While young people understand the importance of voting, they are often ill-prepared for the multi-step, snail-mail process. Downloading, printing, and inking a signature? When was the last time a young adult had to do that?

While community members are encouraged to volunteer with voting groups and for their favorite candidates/issues, there is tremendous power in changing our day-to-day behavior, too. When we talk about voting and make the idea of a Voting Plan as familiar as choosing car insurance or an internet provider, we change the way people around us function.

 We elevate the importance of planful voting by making it part of our everyday lives. We help people activate their Voting Plans by removing hurdles — maybe printing a form; or helping someone handwrite their Application; or providing an envelope with postage; or helping to check online that the Application was received and is processing okay. 

Of course, we care about who and what people cast their votes in support of. But the first step of reclaiming a balanced democracy is ensuring that voters are registered and that all registered voters complete a ballot in time to be counted on Election Day. With traditional campaign strategies hindered by the pandemic, citizens must mobilize each other to follow through early and to help others often. 

The best way of doing that? Apply today to Vote by Mail. Then, get everyone you know to do the same. 


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