WASHINGTON –Record turnouts in the 2018 midterm elections coupled with high levels of “enthusiasm” among voters indicate a dramatic increase in voter participation in 2020. Election officials want to make sure they are prepared to make the electoral process run smoothly.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose are two of those election officials. They spoke in a panel before the National Press Club on Tuesday to discuss the policies their offices have been implementing to increase and accommodate voter turnout.
“They’re coming this time,” said Tammy Patrick, a fellow panelist and the senior advisor to election programs at the Democracy Fund. “So consider, how do we translate this enthusiasm into effectively cast ballots?”
LaRose said part of the expected increase in voter turnout has come from the measures that states like his have implemented in recent years to make voting more accessible.
“Making sure that we have ample opportunities for Ohioans to cast their ballot has always been a focus of ours,” LaRose said.
Ohio’s election policies allow for 28 days of early voting, both by mail and in person. Citizens can cast their ballots on weekends and Ohio is one of just six states where people can vote on Sunday afternoons. The government of Michigan has also worked to grow its voting population, recently establishing new automatic and online voting registration systems which allow citizens to register to vote up until election day.
Partly in an effort to accommodate increased traffic in polling places, Michigan has become a vote-by-mail state, in which every citizen has the right to submit an absentee ballot without specifying a reason. Ohio’s election practices also emphasize the use of mail-in ballots. Such absentee rules are expected to bring the number of citizens voting in polling places down, with more people expected to submit mail-in ballots than ever before.
LaRose will be sending an absentee ballot to every registered voter in Ohio. The Secretary said he compares mail-in voting to “cheating on a test” for his constituents, in that voters can use internet resources while filling out their ballots from home.
“We want to see people take advantage of that convenience,” LaRose said. “We all know it helps reduce the pressure on polling locations on election days so that we don’t have long lines and that kind of thing.”
LaRose and Benson both highlighted the importance of poll worker recruitment programs which encourage private citizens to volunteer in their precincts, lightening the workloads of election administrators. They each have partnered with local businesses and large corporations who have promised to send their employees to the polls on election day.
“We see it as a workforce development challenge,” Benson said. “And we’ve been proactively working to partner with organizations that have talented individuals, and schools and universities as well of course, to provide their talent to serve our citizens.”