Voter Registration and Ohio Law

When beginning a voter registration project, volunteers should be familiar with Ohio’s voting laws. All volunteers should understand who is eligible to vote, how to complete the voter registration forms, and the rules about submitting the forms to your county BOE. As laws can be amended or expanded, volunteers should review all information regarding voter registration drives before beginning to register detainees.

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Who is eligible to vote in Ohio?

You are eligible to register and vote in Ohio, if you are:

  • A U.S. citizen.
  • A resident of Ohio for 30 days before the election.
  • A residence is a fixed address to which an individual plans to return whenever they are absent.
  • At least 18 years of age on or before the date of the next general election.
  • Not currently incarcerated or serving a term of imprisonment for a felony.
  • Some individuals may be released to a county jail or halfway house to serve the remainder of their prison sentence, or may be required to report to the local jail on the evenings and weekends. These individuals are still considered “imprisoned” until they complete their full sentence.
  • Not declared incompetent by a probate court for the purposes of voting.
  • Not permanently disenfranchised for violating Ohio’s election laws.

Time to Register

Ohio residents can register any time during the year. In order to be eligible to vote in any given election, the voter registration forms must be received at least 30 days prior to that election or postmarked no later than 30 days before the election.

Eligibility / Residency Requirements

Homeless Applicants

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    If a person does not have a fixed residence where they intend to return after they are absent, they may use a shelter or other location at which they are a consistent and regular inhabitant and to which they have the intention of returning. A residence does not have to be a house or apartment. That shelter or other location shall be deemed the person’s residence for the purpose of registering to vote.



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    Individuals who have been convicted of a misdemeanor, and are serving time in prison or jail, or have been released on probation or parole are eligible to register and vote. Individuals who have been convicted of a felony may re-register to vote at their county BOE after they complete their sentence. Any person ordered to serve probation or parole are also eligible to vote.


College Students

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    It is rare for volunteers to encounter incarcerated college students, but there may be cases where students are detained in jail. A college student may vote using his or her Ohio school residence address for voting purposes if they do not intend to return to their permanent address in another state or location. It is illegal to register and vote from two different addresses.


Loss of Residency for Voting Purposes

If a person is a resident of another state but is incarcerated in Ohio, for purposes of voting they are ineligible to vote in Ohio. If a person has changed their physical address to another state while waiting for their release from jail, they shall be considered to have lost their residency in Ohio.

Post Office Box or Mail Store as Voting Residence Address

A person cannot list a post office box or a commercial mail store as his or her residence for voting purposes; however, a voter can provide the county BOE with an additional address that is a post office box for mailing purposes.

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Address or Name Changes

Another important aspect of completing voter registration forms is handling address and name changes.

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Many detainees will be exiting jail before Election Day and their previous address may differ from what they provided on their voter registration form or the address that is on file at the county jail. To help them navigate these issues, please find helpful information about when and how they can update their information with their county BOE:

A voter can change their address within a county on the day of the election at their assigned polling location. However, if they are changing their address at their polling location they must vote provisionally in the event their new address has a different polling precinct.

A change of address between counties can be done by appearing at the office of the BOE either by noon on the Saturday before the election, on the Monday before Election Day, or on Election Day.

If registrants move and/or change their name after registering to vote, they must update their voter registration by submitting a new voter registration form. For change of address only, registrants may use the Secretary of State’s Online Change of Address System at

If the registrants do not report a required change of address at least 30 days before an election, they are still eligible vote in person at their polling precinct or in front of two board employees who visit the jail. They will need to cast a provisional ballot if they do not report their change of address by the voter registration deadline.

Voters can still cast a ballot if they did not report their name change to the BOE at least 30 days before an election. They will need to bring proof of their name change, such as a marriage license or a court order that includes the voters’ current and prior names, and sign a Notice of Change of Name Form 10-L. If the voters do not have proof, they will have to vote provisionally and bring legal documents to their county BOE no later than 10 days after the election.


Filling Out an Application

Volunteers should have their volunteer leaders check the voter registration forms for accuracy and completeness. The primary organizer will have 10 days to return the registration forms to their county BOE. Afterwards, the county board will have 20 business days to process the registration and mail a voter registration form to the new applicant or an applicant updating their information.

Questions to Consider

Ohio residents can register any time during the year. In order to be eligible to vote in any given election, the voter registration forms must be received at least 30 days prior to that election or postmarked no later than 30 days before the election.

Before the Drive

  1. Do organizations have to register with the state?

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    No. Organizations and groups do not have to register with the state. However, many jail administrators and wardens would prefer working with groups who are affiliated with the jail’s social worker, the public defenders’ office or another entity with an established relationship with the jail.

  2. Does the state have any restrictions on using pre-filled voter registration forms?

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    No. You should avoid pre-filling any forms because detainees will have a variety of circumstances that will make filling out the form complicated.

  3. Are there restrictions on getting voter registration applications?

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    No. Anyone can obtain a registration application from the county board, a public library, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the county treasurer, the Department of Health and Human Services, a probation officer or other certified entity authorized to distribute voter registration forms.

    Volunteers and advocates should ask their county board for voter registration forms and absentee ballot request forms well in advance of their visit to the jail.

    If detainees will be released soon and have internet access, you can also provide them instructions about registering online at their county BOE’s or the Secretary of State’s websites. Registering online requires a valid driver’s license or state ID.

  4. Does the state require any training in order to conduct voter registration drives?

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    No. The state does not require that volunteers undergo any specialized training. This requirement was ended by the 2004 court decision in Project Vote v. Blackwell. Again, although there is no state requirement prohibiting untrained registration workers, many jails may require registrars to submit their names well in advance of their visit, and possibly, complete volunteer training before entering the jail. Advocacy groups should work with jail administrators to minimize barriers for volunteers by communicating what is required to enter the jail, including submitting identification or undergoing a background check.

  5. Does the state have restrictions on paying drive workers?

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    Yes. According to Ohio law, no person shall receive compensation on a fee per signature or fee per volume basis for circulating a petition, or a fee per registration or fee per volume basis for registering a voter. Volunteers can, however, be paid for time worked while registering voters or collecting signatures for election-related petitions. If groups are found paying workers for the number of voter registrations they complete, it is punishable as a fifth degree felony for improper compensation for registering a voter.

    Before beginning your registration drive work with jail administrators and corrections officers to enter the jail at times that are not disruptive to detainees’ recreational time or during visiting hours that are limited times available to detainees’ relatives.

During the Drive

  1. Must the registration volunteer sign their name to the completed voter registration application or form?

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    Workers are not required to sign their name to the form, unless the registrants are unable to sign their own name. If registrants are unable to sign their names to the form, they should make an “X” on the signature line. The volunteers will need to sign their name underneath the voters’ signature attesting that the voters wanted to register. If the registrant is unable to make an “X” the volunteer must sign the application attesting the voter desired to register.

  2. Are there restrictions on offering something of value to a person in exchange for completing a voter registration application?

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    Yes. In this case, federal law supersedes any state law regulating compensation to a voter for registering. Federal law states that anyone who knowingly or willfully pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting will be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. Furthermore, this federal law also includes bribing someone to register with items of monetary value (even though there is no cash exchange). Volunteers should also be wary of promising to compensate a detainee after they are released from jail as this is also against the law.

  3. Does the drive have to provide a receipt or other tracking information to the registrant?

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    No. However, it is advisable for the drive organizer to check within twenty business days if the voter’s information has been accepted by the BOE. If it has not, the voter should contact the board.

  4. How will an applicant know whether the election official received the application?

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    If the BOE receives the application and is satisfied all of the information is complete and accurate, the board must register the voter within 20 business days and send notification that the voters have been registered to their permanent address. If the board is unable to verify the applicant’s address, because the voter registration card was returned to the county board, the person will have to cast a provisional ballot in the next election. If the provisional ballot is counted, the board shall correct the voter’s registration, if needed, and shall remove the indication that the voter’s notification was returned from the official registration list, the poll list and signature poll book. If the provisional ballot is not counted, the registration will be cancelled.

  5. Should we track the voter registration forms with the county BOE?

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    Keeping track of the number of registrations you complete and how many are successfully processed with the BOE is good practice.

    You can check if voters are registered by visiting your county BOE’s online website. In addition, you should also keep track of how many of your registrants actually vote in the upcoming election. This information can be used for applying for grants to continue your work and convincing county board officials and jail administrators that detainees are interested in voting. There are also no restrictions on copying information. In fact, copying the registrant’s name and date of birth to track their application online with the county BOE may be helpful.

  6. If an application is incomplete, may the voter registrar write the missing information on the application with the applicant’s consent?

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    This is not mentioned in Ohio law, but all volunteers should thoroughly review the voter registration forms with each eligible voter. Assist voters with completing their name and address, checking whether they are completing a new voter registration form or updating their information, and seeing if they correctly entered a number or information from a valid form of identification. If the detainee does not have a driver’s license or remember the last four digits of their social security number, they will need someone to make a copy of a paycheck, utility bill or other acceptable identification, bring the document to them in jail (if they will be incarcerated during the registration period), and then, attach it to their registration form. Volunteers may have difficulty completing registration forms if detainees do not have anyone to help them obtain this information.

    Always check voter registration forms for accuracy and completeness before leaving the jail.

After the Drive

  1. Is there a time limit for voter registration groups to submit the applications they collect?

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    Yes. Registrars have ten days to return voter registration forms to their county board. Ohio law mandates that anyone who registers another person for the purposes of voter registration and fails to return the registration form will be found guilty of election falsification and sentenced to a fifth degree felony. More specific rules also regulate if a voter misses an election because the registrar failed to submit their registration.

  2. Other rules governing the completion and submission of registration forms:

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    No person shall knowingly register or make an application or attempt to register a person who is not a qualified voter; or aid that person in registering if they are ineligible to vote. Registrars are also forbidden from registering a voter under more than one name or make a false statement on either the registration application or return envelope for an absent voter’s ballot. Violators of these rules could be punished with a fifth degree felony.

  3. How will a registrant know if their application has been accepted?

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    After the voter registration form is returned by you or your group to the county board, the voter will receive a card in the mail within 20 business days.

  4. How will an applicant correct an incomplete application after it has been submitted to election officials?

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    There is no clear way for a voter to correct an application, as incomplete applications are usually discarded by county boards. The most viable way to check if a registration has been processed and accepted by the BOE is for both you and the voter to check on the county board’s website. If the voter’s information does not appear online or after calling the county board after thirty business days, the voter should submit another application.

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 If you have been disenfranchised and you need legal help, please submit a compliant for review on our Legal Help page.

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