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Kathleen Kastelic: State must take action to make absentee voting work better

Kathleen Kastelic: State must take action to make absentee voting work better

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The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, an organization that has long advocated for voting rights, recently requested the Oklahoma Election Board take urgent action to address problems with the absentee ballot process which threaten the integrity of the Nov. 3 general election.

The actions requiring immediate attention are:

1. Provide one set of instructions for the absentee ballot in a check list form. Items that must be included are:

Add “See other Side,” if necessary, to each of the ballot pages to prevent unintentional, incomplete voting;

State that blue or black ink must be used, and markers and pencil are prohibited;

Give clear instructions about current validation requirements;

Emphasize that the affidavit envelope must be completed and signed if voters chose the ID copy option;

Tell voters to use two Forever stamps to guarantee that the ballot reaches the county election board;

Advise voters that if they have requested an absentee ballot but did not use it, voting in-person at their regular polling place is permitted after signing an affidavit stating that they did not vote absentee;

Inform voters that their absentee ballot can be hand-delivered to the election boards by 5 p.m. the day before the election.

The list above was developed from feedback shared with us by primary and run-off voters.

All the recommendations are critical to give voters assurance their absentee ballot is counted or can vote in-person even if they did not use their absentee ballot.

2. County election boards should offer curbside drop-off for absentee ballots. Beginning Oct. 28, voters should be able to hand an official their sealed ballot and check the proper IDs curbside at the election board.

The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma is concerned about the deadline date to request an absentee ballot. Seven days is not adequate time for a ballot to reach the voter and be returned by mail before the deadline of 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected both election processes and mail services. According to numbers provided by the Oklahoma Election Board, a total of 2,959 standard absentee ballots were rejected in the June 30 primary election. Of those absentee ballots 2,036 were rejected because they arrived after the 7 p.m. Election Day deadline. This drop-off option a week before the election would reduce ballot rejections due to late arrivals.

3. Update websites, social media pages and all other media platforms maintained by county election boards with accurate election dates and deadlines for the Nov. 3 election.

Voters who visited county election board websites or social media pages reported that election dates and deadlines had not been updated. Accurate and current information on election dates and deadlines is crucial.

4. Clearly communicate changes, advisories and recommendations including election board websites, newspapers, radio, TV, social media, physical mail and public postings. Communicate details of the following on the state election board portal:

The absentee ballot checklist;

Recommend absentee ballots be mailed seven days prior to the election;

Curbside absentee ballot drop-off program if this can be instituted;

Recommend that the absentee ballots be opened immediately to familiarize voters with the contents;

Recommend two Forever Stamps to ensure absentee ballots timely delivery.

Especially in these challenging times, Oklahoma voters deserve fair, equitable and efficient elections.

Providing county election boards and voters with additional support — including extra time, better information and enforcement of uniform protocols — will reduce the impediments to absentee voting.

Better communication would significantly reduce uncertainties of the integrity of the election process.

Kathleen Kastelic is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma.

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