No Small Stuff (cont.): ZIP Code Error Affects Absentee Ballot Requests in Youngstown

[Image via flickr]

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a favorite saying: “The good news about election administration is that you don’t have to sweat the small stuff. The bad news is that there is no small stuff.” That once again came to mind this week as election officials in Youngstown, OH discovered that an error on state absentee ballot requests is causing them to be returned to sender. The Youngstown Vindicator has more:

Applications sent to every registered voter in Mahoning County to request a mail ballot for the November election have the wrong ZIP code on the return envelope.

The error – 44512 instead of 44502 ZIP code – was discovered after the county board of elections received about 10 telephone calls from people who had their applications returned to them, said elections Director Joyce Kale-Pesta.

The 44512 ZIP code is in Boardman, while the correct 44502 ZIP code for the board of elections is at its location on Oak Hill Avenue on Youngstown’s South Side.

There are 168,755 registered voters in Mahoning County.

The board of elections notified the U.S. Postal Service with about 3,000 to 4,000 absentee ballot requests in the hands of election officials, Kale-Pesta said.

“We’re going to the [main] post office downtown and picking them up every day,” she said.

“The post office has been working with us. They’re all getting processed and they’re all getting taken care of. We’ve gotten thousands and thousands of them.”

The absentee request forms are mailed by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to the 7.9 million registered voters in the state, said Sam Rossi, a SOS spokesman.

All information for the mail ballot applications are “provided by the boards of elections,” he said.

The mistake with the Mahoning County applications are the only ones in the state, Rossi said.

Kale-Pesta said the SOS “said it was information from us, but I don’t know how that happened because we sent them correct information. It might have been a printer error with the company that prints the applications.”

David Van Allen, a regional spokesman for the USPS, said the post office became aware of the issue last week.

He said the post office has been in close communication with both the elections board and the secretary of state’s office and has taken measures to ensure delivery of the ballot request forms.

“We’re making sure they get to the right place,” Van Allen said.

Even so, Kale-Pesta suggests people mailing absentee ballot requests change the ZIP code to the correct one.

“The good news is this was spotted very quickly and we’ve worked with the post office and it’s being processed and arriving at the board of elections,” Rossi said. “It’s still a few weeks before early voting starts.”

Early voting starts Oct. 10. The election is Nov. 6.

Obviously, ten pieces of returned mail is not a crisis; yet, it’s still a “no small stuff” reminder that proofing and checking materials – including ZIP Codes! – is a crucial part of any election mailing. As Election Day approaches, it’s just one more thing for election officials to worry about – and hope that it goes right. Stay tuned …

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