COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state of Ohio will begin counting ballots at precisely 7:31 p.m., starting with the more than 3.4 million already cast via mail and secure election dropboxes.
Speaking Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Ohioans should expect an unofficial result that night, like every election night — one that accounts for every absentee ballot received thus far, every early vote placed and every voter who stood in line to cast their ballot on Election Day.
“What we’re going to report is going to be an accurate number, but it’s not going to be a complete story,” LaRose said. “We never have a final number on election night. That’s just not how election night reporting works. It never has been. What we will have is an accurate number of everything that’s been received so far, up until this date.”
Will that result be conclusive? It depends on how close each race is, LaRose said.
His office will list the number of outstanding absentee ballots at the top of its web page, giving Ohioans an idea of how far the election could swing in either direction by the time all ballots are counted in late November.
“If your favorite candidate’s ahead by a million votes (on election night) and there are yet 200,000 outstanding absentee ballots, I think you can look at that and say that contest is over,” he said. “But if your favorite candidate is ahead by 100,000 votes and there are still 200,000 outstanding ballots, then just by definition, that contest is not going to be over until we have the time to count every single ballot.”
Ohio has about 8 million registered voters, per reporting by the Associated Press. Around 42% of them had cast absentee ballots that were already counted by Tuesday; about 2.5% of them had requested absentee ballots that were not received by election officials on Tuesday.
Any ballot postmarked by Nov. 2 must be counted if it arrives at its destination by Nov. 13, LaRose said.
He added he believed the election process in Ohio has been exemplary in its transparency, and he would defend the system against any accusations of unfairness or manipulation if they surfaced in the wake of a result.
“We respect that what we hear today will be the true voice of the people of Ohio,” he said. “Anybody that tries to call into question the validity of Ohio’s process just simply doesn’t understand the process. I will defend Ohio’s process and the voice of the people of Ohio because I know it’s a good process.”
If the Tuesday result is inconclusive, LaRose said he’d defend the need to continue counting every single ballot.
If someone questions it: “The people of Ohio are speaking, and they’re not done yet,” he said.
Running Ohio’s election during the COVID-19 pandemic required the recruitment of over 56,000 poll workers and intricate planning in concert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of 2 p.m., LaRose said he believed the election was proceeding “smoothly.”