Mail-in primary presents challenges

By Drew Stambaugh -

After the late postponement of the March 17 primary, details of the election remained in limbo for over a week. Now, with the passage of House Bill 197, guidelines have been set for what will be a mail-in primary.

Because the election is almost exclusively by mail, Fulton County Board of Elections Director Melanie Gilders expects the extended absentee period to far exceed any absentee totals the county has seen in the past.

“The largest number of absentee voters we have processed in past elections is 5,772, and that was a combination of 2,782 mail-out ballots and 2,990 in-person votes cast,” she said. “This would have all been processed within a 28-day period leading up to the actual election day.”

As of last week, the Board of Elections had processed over 700 mail-out ballots. That number includes ballots submitted before election day and during the extended period. The board also processed 999 voters through a combination of in-person voting, visiting residents in nursing home and assisted living facilities, and military and overseas voters.

“Certainly, the circumstances have changed our processes. Absentee voting by mail is not a new process to the Board of Elections; however, this election will take absentee voting to an unprecedented level for Fulton County, and the State of Ohio in general,” Gilders said. “The Board of Elections will make staffing changes as necessary to keep up with the influx of applications.”

Gilders wants voters who may be unsure about voting by mail to know it is a two-step process. First, the voter needs to request the ballot. The Board of Elections must have an original copy of the request before issuing a ballot. Requests can be mailed to the office or dropped in the secure drop box at the front of the BOE building at 135 Courthouse Plaza in Wauseon.

“Once we receive the ballot request, we will mail a ballot pack to the voter. This packet will contain everything the voter will need in order to vote and return their ballot,” said Gilders. “My advice would be to take time to fully read through everything that is sent including the instruction page. The voter should fill in all required information on the request form and the identification envelope to make sure all required information is complete.”

Voters who do not have the ability to print an absentee ballot application can call the Board of Elections at 419-335-6841 and request an application be sent to them. However, given the time frame to complete this election, voters do not have to wait for an application to be sent, according to Gilders. Voters can put down the required information on a regular sheet of paper and mail that to the BOE office, or place in the drop box. This will avoid extra days in the mail.

The information required is:

– Name

– Residential address (home address, no PO boxes)

– Mailing address (if voter needs ballot sent to an address other than their home address)

– Birth date

– Either the last four digits of social security number or entire driver’s license number (two letters followed by six digits) or copy of a current and valid photo identification, military identification or a current (within the last 12 months) utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document (other than a notice of voter registration mailed by a board of elections) that contains name and current address. Only one form of identification is required.

– Election date – March 17 is a primary election

– The voter must declare which party ballot they wish to vote – Democratic, Republican or Libertarian. An issues-only ballot is available for voters in Clinton Township, the Pettisville school district, the Village of Swanton, and Pike Township only.

– A statement that the voter is a qualified elector and wishes to request a ballot for the March 17, 2020, primary election.

– Signature

The BOE also recommends that the voter put down their phone number and email address in case contact about their application is necessary.

– Applications can be mailed to 135 Courthouse Plaza, Wauseon, Ohio 43567 or dropped into the secure drop box just to the right side of the main entrance. The secure drop box is monitored, and items are retrieved multiple times daily.

“We would like voters to know that even though our office in not open to the public right now due to health concerns, staff is in the office processing requests and issuing ballots on a daily basis,” said Gilders. “We are available to answer calls and emails and provide voters with the information they need.”

Voters can call 419-335-6841 or email at for more information on the election. The board cannot accept ballot request forms by email.

By Drew Stambaugh

Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010

Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010