Absentee Voting

Absentee voting, or voting by mail, allows detainees who are jailed for failure to post bond, a misdemeanor or are awaiting trial to cast a ballot on Election Day. Detainees can choose to vote by mail or they can have two election officials administer the ballot to them while they remain in jail. Detainees requesting to vote from jail will need a volunteer to help them complete either form 11-A or 11-F. Read more about how detainees can vote by mail, using the jail’s mailing system or with the help of election officials.

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Every year, thousands of detainees remain incarcerated in one of 3,283 jails across the United States because they cannot afford to post bail. This remains especially true in Ohio. While in detention, individuals residing in Ohio languish for days, weeks or months on end and they may fail to vote because no one assists them with registering to vote or completing an absentee voting application.

Completing and Submitting Absentee Ballot Requests for Detainees

Absentee Ballot Requests

Whether or not a detainee will be released before Election Day, they can ask a volunteer to help them complete one of two special absentee ballot request forms which will allow them to vote early in person, by mail or at the jail with assistance from county BOE officials.

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    Absentee ballot request form 11-A, application for absent voter’s ballot should be used for detainees who believe they will be released before Election Day and would like to vote early in person or have a ballot mailed to their last known permanent address. Form 11-F, application for absent voter’s ballot by voter requiring assistance, applies to detainees who will vote from the jail and require the assistance of two county board employees. Both forms can only be used for a qualified Ohio voter whose registration is current. A reason for voting absentee does not have to be stated on the request forms.

    Any 11-A or 11-F forms submitted by incarcerated voters must have the jail’s mailing address and the detainee’s Sheriff’s Office (SO) number clearly printed on the form.

    The Sheriff’s Office (SO) number can generally be found on a detainee’s wristband or on another article of jail-issued clothing. Requests for absentee voting (or vote by mail and early in-person voting) begins January 1st or 90 days before the date of an election, whichever is earlier, and ending at 12 noon on the Saturday before Election Day. If a detainee wishes to cast an absentee ballot, their application must be submitted in writing to the BOE of the county in which they reside. If the request form is for a partisan primary election, the voter must indicate their political party affiliation.


Submitting Requests

Submitting requests as early as possible will ensure the county board has time to process the ballots and mail them, and the voters can review their ballot and return it to the election official.

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    Absentee ballot requests can also be returned in person by the detainees if they have been released from jail to their county BOE (not to the person’s polling precinct).

    Once the board receives the properly completed 11-A or 11-F form, they will mail the actual absentee ballot beginning the first day of early voting or they will arrange for county BOE officials to visit the jail, whichever is applicable. When the voters are finished marking their votes, they must return their ballot to their county board in order for it to be counted have the county board officials collect their ballot.


Jails Processing Absentee Ballots

If the ballot is mailed to the jail, the corrections officers will need to provide eligible detainees with writing utensils.

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    There are no clear rules on how jails choose to handle absentee ballots, with the exception that detainees are entitled to receive mail from the county board and have their ballots returned through the jail’s mailing system with the correct postage.

    Some jails may view absentee balloting as a security risk.

    You can ask the jail to call detainees to a central location to complete their ballots. Volunteers may also ask to be present when detainees are handed their ballots, but you cannot interfere with a voter’s choices or offer assistance that may be seen as biased towards a political candidate, party or issue. With careful planning with respect to pencils, the jail’s delivery systems, and other details, you can assure there is little disruption to the detainees’ voting process. Another option is asking the county board to bring the absentee ballots to the jail and having the board employees administer them directly.


Ways to Return the Ballot

Absentee Voting

Volunteers will have to determine if the absentee ballot will be mailed or delivered in person by two BOE employees to a detainee. This can be difficult to ascertain if the detainee has not been given information about their release date prior to a scheduled election.

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    Some detainees may not trust or have privacy concerns about any letters entering through the jail’s mailing system. Discuss these concerns with detainees if they have these concerns and provide alternative ways for them to obtain their absentee ballot such as requesting two board officials administering the ballot.

    If detainees choose to have their ballot delivered through the jail’s mailing system or in person by two board employees, the volunteer will need to complete Form 11-F (see the appendices for a sample 11-F form). The form asks for the nature of the voter’s confinement, due to illness, physical disability, infirmity or confinement, and other personal information. If detainees are unable to sign their ballot, they can ask for the assistance of the board employees. Only board employees may deliver, administer and collect the ballot. Volunteers are prohibited from collecting an absentee ballot on a detainee’s behalf.


Returning the Ballot by Mail

Detainees can return their ballots through the jail mail system no later than the day before an election.

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    Some jails will send mail for free while others will require detainees to pay for postage. Check with your jail officials about the cost of sending mail and if this is a feasible option for detainees. Also discuss with the voter if they have any privacy concerns about using the jail’s mailing system.

    Volunteers cannot provide postage for detainees sending their absentee ballots to their local BOE.


Returning the Ballot in Person

If a detainee will be out of jail during the early voting period or on Election Day, the detainee can deliver their ballot in person to their county BOE.

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    A family member may also deliver the ballot by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day at the office of the BOE only. Jails and county boards will not accept ballots from family members if the individual is still incarcerated. Different rules have been established for collecting ballots in person from someone who is detained.


Provisional Ballots

Individuals who have been released from jail and are voting in person will be able to cast a regular ballot if voting at a precinct that corresponds to their address and if they are properly registered. [Start text for drop down / read more] However, there may be instances when their name does not appear in their precinct’s poll books or the signature on their registration form does not match the election official’s records.

Here are examples when former detainees will have to vote provisionally:

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  • The detainee moved or changed their name after being released from jail and did not update their registration with their county BOE.
  • They do not have the required proof of ID. The voter may use all other forms of valid ID but if they are unable to obtain this identification because they are homeless, transient or do not have a bank account or utility listed under their name, they should visit their county BOE for help. Valid forms of ID can be found in the appendices.
  • They have already asked for an absentee ballot to be sent to the jail or another address for the same election.
  • Their registration was returned to the county BOE because it was marked undeliverable by the post office.
  • Their eligibility has been challenged by the precinct election officials or a hearing to challenge their voting eligibility has been postponed until after the election. This may be common for individuals awaiting trial on a felony charge.
  • The content of a provisional ballot is no different from a regular ballot, but it is cast “provisionally” until election officials can verify a voter’s eligibility to vote in the particular precinct for that election.
  • If an individual does not provide an acceptable form of identification at the time they cast their provisional ballot, they must appear in person at the BOE within seven days immediately following Election Day with their identification in order for their ballot to be counted.


DISCLAIMER – The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, an exhaustive overview of Ohio’s voting laws. Before beginning any jail voting initiative please review the Ohio Revised Code or the Ohio Secretary of State’s website at vote.ohio.gov. If you have been disenfranchised and you need legal help, please submit a compliant for review on our Legal Help page.

Back to Voting in Jail: An Organizer’s Toolkit.

Voting In Jail