Beginning Tuesday, any Ohio voters who want to skip the sometimes chaotic Election Day polling places can cast absentee ballots by mail.
The change has raised questions about how voters cast absentee ballots and how those votes will be counted in the nationally watched election where Ohioans will pick a new governor and select a U.S. Sen. that may tip the balance of power in Washington.
A few common questions about absentee voting and answers, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office:
Q: Who can vote absentee?
A: Any eligible voter who wants to cast an absentee ballots can do so. Before this election, Ohioans had to have a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, such as being out of the country on Election Day.
The change was part of an overhaul of the state's laws after the 2004 presidential election was marked by long lines and other issues.
Q: How do I request an absentee ballot?
A: Requests for absentee ballots must be made in writing to the elections board in the county where you live. Some counties have request forms and the Ohio Secretary of State offers an optional form on its Web site.
Whether on a form or in a letter you must state which election you are requesting an absentee ballot for and state that you are a qualified voter.
All requests also must contain the following information: name, signature, the address at which you are registered to vote, birth date.
To satisfy voter identification requirements, you also must include one of the following in your request: Ohio driver's license number; last four digits of your Social Security number; copy of your current and valid photo identification. Valid ID can be military ID, current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document with current name and address.
State the address to which you want the absentee ballot mailed.
Q: What if I am in the military?
A: Active duty members of Ohio's Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Naval Militia and Military Reserve and active duty Armed Forces members must request absentee ballots in writing - by mail or fax - under the same rules above. Applications should specify what address or fax number to which the ballot should be sent. Military absentee applications can be submitted on behalf of the member by certain relatives using a specific form. For more specific information contact your local elections board or check the Secretary of State's Web site.
Q: How do I cast my absentee ballot?
A: If you've requested the ballot by mail: Once you've made your choices following the directions on the fill-in-the-bubble optical scan ballots, you can drop the ballot off at your local county elections board or send the ballot by U.S. mail to the proper elections board.
If you go to your local elections board and request a ballot in person: vote and submit the ballot there.
Military members cannot fax ballots. They must be mailed or voted at the appropriate elections board.
Q: What are key deadlines?
A: Election boards must receive your request by mail for an absentee ballot by noon the Saturday before the election, in this case, Nov. 4. If you plan to cast an absentee ballot in person, you must do so by the day before the election, Nov. 6.
Ballots mailed from or dropped off in the U.S. must be received by 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7. Ballots properly mailed from outside the country must be received by 10 days after the election.
Q: What if I don't receive the ballot I requested by mail in a reasonable period of time?
A: Voters should contact their local board of elections if they do not receive their requested absentee ballot, according to James Lee, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's office.
Q: How do I know my ballot was received?
A: Voters can contact their local board of elections to verify that their absentee ballot has been received, Lee said.
Q: How are absentee ballots counted?
A: In Ohio, all absentee ballots are optical scan ballots - the kind where voters fill in the bubbles. Election officials count the absentee ballots on Election Day after the polls have closed using electronic machines approved by the state and county elections boards. The machines read voters' marks on the ballots and use special computer software to tabulate results. In cases when the machines do not work, the paper absentee ballots will be counted by hand by election board employees.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A: Contact your county elections board or visit the Ohio Secretary of State's Web site at: http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/PublicAffairs/VoterInfoGuide.aspx?Section16