Things appear to be going swimmingly in Ohio as large numbers of voters prepare to send in their ballots by mail. And when we say “large” we’re not talking about an increase of a few percent over 2016. In Franklin County, encompassing the state capital of Columbus, nearly a quarter of a million ballots have already been mailed out. Unfortunately, nearly 20% of those ballots are invalid because of incorrect information on them. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because we’ve been seeing this happen all over the country this month. But the errors in Franklin County were particularly egregious. A “fix” for this problem has been promised, but with only 24 days to go, cleaning this mess up is going to require some serious magic. (Associated Press)

Nearly 50,000 voters received incorrect absentee ballots in the county that is home to Ohio’s capital, elections officials said Friday as they promised corrected ballots would be mailed within 72 hours.

With about 240,000 ballots mailed, that meant one in five voters received a wrong ballot. The error happened Saturday afternoon when someone changed a setting on a machine that places absentee ballots into mailing envelopes, Franklin County elections officials said Thursday.

Some ballots had an incorrect congressional race, while others had the correct information but were sent to voters in a different precinct.

This must be yet another example of those “snafus” that the Associated Press keeps assuring us always happen but are easily corrected and no big deal. Seriously? Twenty percent is one heck of a “snafu.”

We’re once again being told that this was a simple case of human error, which is certainly plausible. Somebody at the company contracted to assemble the ballots for mailing “changed a setting” on the machine that stuffs and addresses the envelopes. That resulted in the names of congressional candidates being incorrect or showing the race in a different district.

This is Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District we’re talking about, which is rated at D+19 so it probably won’t impact Joyce Beatty’s (D) election prospects very much. But if this had happened in a marginal, closely contested district, 50,000 votes could easily tip the election in one direction of the other.

So what are they going to do about it? Election officials say that they’ll not only be sending new ballots out, but they will send “a postcard” to each voter who received an incorrect ballot with instructions as to how they should proceed. But let’s stop and consider the reality of what that means. We’re now in the final throes of the presidential election. All across the country, residents’ mailboxes are inundated with campaign mailers from every elected official and hopeful candidate on the ballot on a daily basis. A large majority of that material goes straight into the recycling bin, including at my house.

If the voter has already received their ballot and sent it in, a lot of them are simply going to ignore any additional postcards or anything else that looks like more campaign propaganda. If they didn’t happen to catch this story on the news, they’ll probably have no idea that they mailed in a spoiled ballot. Those are the sorts of potential errors that we’ll likely never find out about. On election day, the spoiled ballots will simply be rejected and the voters will probably never realize that they weren’t counted. Further, even if they do mail in the replacement ballot, we’re relying on election workers who have never handled this volume of mail-in voting before to catch all of them and ensure people don’t wind up inadvertently voting twice.

Good luck, Ohio. The 2020 election is shaping up to be a wild and wooly affair. The latest round of polling shows Biden and Trump separated by less than one percent. That’s a contest that may wind up coming down to a difference of… dare we say it… less than 50,000 votes.