Brian Sleeth’s name was nowhere on the ballot in Warren County, where he lives, but he counts the 2020 general election as a personal victory anyway.
As the head of the Warren County Board of Elections, his goal wasn’t to get elected or to support any particular candidate. It was to keep voters safe from the pandemic, process an unprecedented flood of ballots and live to do it again.
“This shaved years off my life,” he said Friday afternoon.
But it would have been much worse without the pandemic-prompted changes to Ohio’s election procedures, many of which Sleeth hopes will become permanent. Convenience-oriented tweaks helped voters and election officials make it through Nov. 3 in one piece.
Eighty-two percent of registered Warren County voters cast a ballot this year. It was an incredible volume, Sleeth said — more than his office could ever have handled if those voters had all turned up on one day.
But most of them opted to vote by mail or show up early.
“That did nothing but help us at the polls,” Sleeth said, adding that even in-person voting is safer if done ahead of time. “It’s a much more controlled environment at the Board of Elections office where people are trained more. They work a lot more than poll workers, who work one day a year.”
He said he was also grateful for temporary rules that allowed election officials to call or email voters about problems with their absentee ballot or application. Before, their only option was to send a letter.
“A lot of times, people got our letter after it was too late, in years past,” he said. “I hope that (calling and email) continues for elections to come.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who oversees all elections in the state, has said he hopes to make improvements to the system in coming months.
State senators already have two bills they’re considering: One that would allow all voters to request ballots online, rather than via mail, and another that would beef up checks on ballot-printing vendors.
“Requesting a ballot online, I think that needs to happen,” Sleeth said. “You can register to vote online, but yet you can’t request a ballot online. So I think that needs to happen.”