In the Midst of Absent Ballots for Ohio’s Absentee Voters, Obies Continue GOTV Initiatives


Courtesy of Angelo Merendino and the New York Times

Midwest Direct misprinted hundreds of absentee ballots, causing delays for many Oberlin students.

Many voters who expected to receive their absentee ballots last week are experiencing delays or received faulty ballots. This issue has affected nearly 800 College students, according to Associate Professor and Chair of Geology Zeb Page. 

The delays stem from a third-party company called Midwest Direct that Lorain County Board of Elections and other BOEs in Ohio and Pennsylvania contracted to print and ship absentee ballots. The BOEs contracted the third-party company because an unprecedented two million Ohioans requested absentee ballots for the 2020 general election — including 773 Oberlin College students across 30 U.S. states and multiple countries.

Upon receiving ballots, both Pennsylvania and Ohio voters found their ballots had incorrect information. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is asking counties to develop contingency plans — such as in-house printing operations — in the event that Midwest Direct is unable to fulfill this year’s staggering volume of requests.

Although the company has now correctly printed and sent all absentee ballots as of Oct. 16, many ballots were delayed and some voters have yet to receive a correct ballot. 

Speculations of ballot tampering have abounded, especially after a Trump campaign flag was spotted on the mast outside the distributor’s headquarters. Midwest Direct strongly refutes the malintent allegations

“For the 10 years we’ve been producing ballots, Midwest has never held or prioritized ballot printing for any reason,” CEO Richard T. Gebbie said in a press release Tuesday. “Any suggestion that our personal political beliefs prompted us to slow down ballot production and distribution is absolutely false.”

Gebbie defended his decision to fly the Trump flag, claiming that he and his brother, co-owner James Gebbie, have the freedom to support any political candidate. The flag has since been taken down, but many people remain skeptical that Gebbies’ political affiliation has not impacted their business.

President Trump’s efforts to defund the U.S. Postal service has led many to distrust voting by mail. Gruesser-Smith is concerned that skepticism of the USPS’ may dissuade some students from voting.

“I am personally worried that students will think the post office is unreliable because of the delays and think it’s not worth it to send ballots in the mail after it took so long for the ballots to reach them,” mail-in voter and College fourth-year Mirella Gruesser-Smith wrote in a message to the Review. “I recommend students drop off ballots in person at the Board of Elections for the sake of time, but the mail will still work.”

Any ballots sent to the Board of Elections from Oberlin should reach the office within three days and will be evaluated by election officials — not by Midwest Direct.

While it is possible to request an absentee ballot and decide to vote in person later, Page recommends against it. 

“If you requested an absentee ballot and show up at the polls on Election Day, you will have to cast a provisional ballot,” Page wrote in an email to the Review. Page is a member of the Voter Friendly Campus Coalition and OC Votes. “This will make more work for election officials and will increase the chances that your ballot will not be counted.”

Page urges students who have not yet received a ballot to remain calm.

“There is nothing to suggest that they won’t be able to process the ballots in a timely fashion. Although ballots cannot be officially counted in Ohio until Election Day, they can be verified before[hand],” Page said. “The more people vote early, the sooner a clear result will emerge on Election Day.”

Oberlin VFC, among other campus organizations, is concerned about voter turnout. According to a College analysis, while 1,737 of Oberlin’s 2,761 eligible students registered in Lorain County, only 1,273 of those students voted in the 2018 election — 73 percent.

Student Senate is advocating for the College to instate an Election Day holiday, starting this year. Their proposal is currently being discussed by the Educational Plans and Policies Committee and Educational Policy Committee.

“Student Senate is committed to the empowerment of Oberlin students, and that encompasses giving students the resources that they need to be heard off-campus as well,” College fourth-year and Chair of Student Senate Henry Hicks wrote in an email to the Review. “Young people have the opportunity in this election to be heard in historic numbers, but disproportionately face barriers to voting and political engagement. … Making Election Day a campus holiday gives students and faculty the opportunity to vote, without missing classes due to long lines. Students could volunteer as poll-workers and for local campaigns.”

As part of its OC Votes initiative, the College has planned programming for election week which includes watch parties, drop-in conversation spaces, and faculty discussion panels. 

“Research shows that giving people the day off on Election Day, and especially pairing it with programming, leads to increased voter turnout. Prioritizing civic engagement is in line with Oberlin’s values and national reputation.”

Historically, Ohio has been a key swing state in the presidential election. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, which means political candidates on both sides of the aisle are eager to turn out supporters in this bellwether state.

“It is essential that Oberlin students vote because Ohio is an important state to win in this election,” wrote Olivia Bross, College second-year and co-campus captain for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, in an email to the Review. “Additionally, Oberlin students are usually civically-minded, and we must continue to be so that we can vote Trump out of office and protect our democracy.”

Concern about the integrity of the voting system is high in this election. Ohio’s elected Democrats, including Representative Tim Ryan and Senator Sherrod Brown, have expressed their distrust in state voting officials including LaRose, calling attention to his history of voter suppression. Ohio Democrats filed a lawsuit against LaRose this past August for limiting the number of ballot drop boxes. 

Obie voter resources, curated by Page to lessen some of these fears, can be found here. Page also recommends mail-in voters view “An Obie’s Guide to the Ohio Mail-In Ballot,” which provides methods for circumventing potential attempts at voter suppression by ballot evaluators.