Midwest Direct cites unprecedented demand for mail-in ballot troubles

Politicians and the Board of Elections want to know why ballots weren’t mailed out until eight days after they were allowed by Ohio law.
Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 7:54 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Local election officials and politicians are raising major questions about a Cleveland company contracted to print and mail absentee ballots to thousands of Lucas County residents.

On Wednesday, the Lucas County Board of Elections announced that just over 55,000 of the more than 68,000 ballots requested by Lucas County voters had been printed and mailed by Midwest Direct, a full eight days after Ohio election rules allowed them to be sent out.

LaVera Scott, Director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, says election officials aren’t getting a straight answer on what caused the delay, only that there was an “operational issue.” Even getting that answer was difficult.

“I do understand they were overwhelmed with a lot of other counties as well,” Scott said. “Communication is key.”

On Thursday, the company’s CEO, Richard Gebbie, defended Midwest Direct’s work, citing the unprecedented amount of ballots they were being asked to process from throughout the region.

As county boards of election throughout the country began to prepare for the 2020 election, they realized the demand for mail-in ballots would exceed the demand that occurred during the 2016 election. To meet that demand, sixteen counties in Ohio and two counties in Western Pennsylvania hired our firm to help expedite the ballot distribution process.

We have been working with the boards of elections in those counties since August to make sure the ballot distribution process would go as smoothly as possible. Anticipating that the volume of requests might be two times what it was in 2016, our company bought extra equipment, brought in extra staff and expanded hours to prepare to meet the demand.

It is fair to say today that no one – not the various boards of elections, not Ohio’s Secretary of State, not our company – anticipated the staggering volume of mail-in ballot requests that has actually occurred. One of our county’s, for instance, told us to expect 40,000 to 70,000 mail-in ballot requests. To date, we have processed 95,000 requests for that county alone. With another 14,000 ballots requested from the county this week. The estimates provided to us from the counties were not what ended up as the reality.

Despite this unparalleled volume, we are getting ballots into the hands of voters quickly and accurately. The Postal Service delivery standards are 5 to 7 days. However, utilizing our mail tracking software we are seeing up to 85 percent of the ballots we are processing are arriving in the hands of voters one to two days after they are shipped to the post office. Our staff is working sixteen hours every day to make sure everyone who wants a ballot in the counties we are serving gets one in time to cast their vote.

We have been in touch every day with Ohio’s Secretary of State since the mail-in balloting process started to make sure Secretary LaRose and his staff know the status of our work. We are in regular contact with our board of election clients to update them on the status of ballot mailings, including Allegheny and Lucas counties. We know how important this election is to everyone in our country and we pledge to do everything our company can to make sure the mail-in ballot process proceeds expediently.

On Wednesday, Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken expressed unhappiness with the vendor and says he wants a full investigation into what happened.

“Given the political tone of the land, we had hoped vendors that were selected based on their merit would perform of their merit,” said Gerken during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “This one hasn’t done that.”

State Senator Teresa Fedor, who was also in attendance at the press conference organized by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, wants Secretary of State Frank LaRose to take a closer look since counties all over the state also use the vendor for ballot services. The Akron Beacon Journal reported that Summit County also uses Midwest Direct and is seeing similar delays.

“I expect to hear back,” said Fedor. “They will hear back from me if I don’t hear back, if we don’t get an investigation for our county because that’s how precious we feel voting is.”

Also on Wednesday, a report from Newsweek revealed that Midwest Direct misprinted 28,000 ballots in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The company claims it was a mapping error and the ballots have been corrected.

Newsweek reports that recent polling in Allegheny County shows former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of President Donald Trump. The president narrowly won the county against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If you have requested an absentee ballot, you should be receiving that ballot in the mail. The Lucas County Board of Elections is reminding voters to allow 5-7 days for any mail to be delivered. If you don’t want to wait or are worried your ballot won’t arrive on time, you can vote early in-person at the Early Vote Center. If you later receive your ballot in the mail, just throw it away as you will have already voted.

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