Public Records Policy
Chapter 2 (Boards of Elections Organization and Operations) of the Election Official Manual states a board of elections is a public office for purposes of the Ohio Public Records Act, and as a result, it is required to:
Organize and maintain its public records in a manner that can be made available in response to public records requests. Public offices are also required to create and adopt a policy for responding to public records requests.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (CCBOE) intends to fully comply with and abide by the Ohio’s Public Records Act. The CCBOE also recognizes that exemptions from disclosure established by federal or state law can and must be applied, particularly where the laws are intended to protect the rights of third parties.
Defining a Public Record
A record is defined by Ohio law to include the following: A document in any format – paper, electronic (including, but not limited to, business e-mail) – that is created, received by, or comes under the jurisdiction of the CCBOE that documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office.
A public record includes a “record” that is being kept by the CCBOE at the time a public records request is made, subject to applicable exemptions from disclosure established by law. All public records must be organized and maintained in such a way that they can be made available for inspection and copying.
Format of Public Records Requests
Although no specific language is required to make a public records request, the requestor must at least identify the records requested with sufficient clarity to allow the CCBOE to identify, retrieve, and review the records. There is also a distinction between a public records request and a question. For an inquiry of the CCBOE to be considered a records request, it must be reasonably presented that way, which typically includes using some of the term “public records request.”
The requestor does not have to put a records request in writing and does not have to provide his or her identity or the intended use of the requested public record. It is CCBOE’s general policy that this information is only to be requested if the written request or disclosure of identity of the requestor or the intended use of the record would benefit the requestor by enhancing the ability of the CCBOE to identify, locate, or deliver the requested public records, and if the requestor is informed that the written request or disclosure of identity of the requestor or intended use of the record is not mandatory.
In many instances, information sought through a public records request can be attained through the CCBOE website at 443vote.us. The CCBOE encourages the public to view our website prior to making a public records request.
Processing Public Records Requests
Routine requests for records should be satisfied promptly. Routine requests include meeting minutes, budgets, election results, forms and applications, and other records the CCBOE determines are “routine.”
Requests that are larger in scope or involve exempted content (such as personal information or details related to election security) should be completed within a reasonable timeframe. Examples of personal information include driver license or social security numbers, date of birth, and phone numbers. In all instances, the CCBOE will endeavor to acknowledge the receipt of a public records request to inform the requestor that the CCBOE is in possession of the request and will respond in the appropriate time and manner.
A public records request that requires a custom report to be created (i.e., the report doesn’t already exist or would need to be significantly altered to meet the request) does not need to be fulfilled by the CCBOE.
Public records are available for inspection during regular business hours. Any request to inspect sensitive documents, as determined by the CCBOE, must be conducted in the presence of two CCBOE employees of opposite political parties, who will always maintain control of the documents.
Denial or Redaction of Records
Any denial of records requested must include an explanation, including legal authority. If portions of a record are public and portions are exempt, the exempt portions are to be redacted and the rest released. Redactions are a denial of portions of the request, and they must be accompanied by a supporting explanation, including legal authority. If the initial request was in writing, the explanation shall also be provided in writing.
If the requester makes an ambiguous or overly broad request or has difficulty in making a request such that the office cannot reasonably identify what public records are being requested, the request may be denied, but the CCBOE must then provide the requester an opportunity to revise the request by informing the requester of the way records are maintained and accessed by the CCBOE.
Records in the form of e-mail, text messaging, and instant messaging, including those sent and received via a hand-held communications device, are to be treated in the same fashion as records in other formats, such as paper, since the content dictates a record’s classification, not its medium.
Public record content transmitted to or from private accounts or personal devices is subject to disclosure. All CCBOE employees are required to retain their e-mail records and other records in any form in accordance with applicable records retention schedules. CCBOE employees should refrain, if possible, from using a personal email account to conduct public business.
Content and messages posted on social media accounts may be public record. As outlined in the Ohio Electronic Records Committee website, social media content should be retained in accordance with CCBOE records retention policy.
The public release of information from a provisional ballot must be scrutinized so not to jeopardize the secrecy of any individual vote. What follows below details what can and cannot be released as public records.
Attorney General Opinion 2011-012
- Provisional ballot envelope - Is subject to state elections laws mandating the seal and preservation of ballots until any possible recount or election contest is completed; state law, within the meaning of R.C. 149.43(A)(1)(v)
 and R.C. 3501.13(C), prohibits the release of provisional ballot envelopes during the time a board of elections is required
to preserve ballots under seal. A provisional ballot envelope is a “public record” subject to release once the time has passed during which a board of elections is required to preserve ballots under seal, but the
voter’s personal information appearing on the envelope is subject to redaction.
-  does not prohibit the release of provisional ballot envelopes. Rather, it prohibits the release of particular voter information through the free access system to anyone other than the voter to whom that information pertains. The free access system established pursuant to R.C. 3505.181(B)(5)(b)11 may be used only by a voter to gain access to information about his individual provisional ballot.
To summarize, a provisional ballot envelope is a public record. However, personal information from the envelope, including that what could be used to determine how an individual voter voted or is otherwise considered
personal information that is subject to redaction under Ohio Sunshine Laws and R.C. 149.43, must not be released
(other than to the voter himself/herself). However, the CCBOE is permitted to release records indicating general or collective figures such as the aggregate number of provisional ballots cast or rejected, reasons for rejection,
etc. in an anonymized manner.
Note: If there is only one provisional ballot to be counted in a precinct with no other ballots in the Official Canvass or amended Official Canvass, to not jeopardize the secrecy of any individual ballot, the name of the voter should not be disclosed in a public records request.
As stated in R.C. 3505.183 (F):
(F) Provisional ballots that the board determines are eligible to be counted under division (B)(3) or (D) of this section shall be counted in the same manner as provided for other ballots under section 3505.27 of the Revised Code. No provisional ballots shall be counted in a particular county until the board determines the eligibility to be counted of all provisional ballots cast in that county under division (B) of this section for that election. Observers, as provided in section 3505.21 of the Revised Code, may be present at all times that the board is determining the eligibility of provisional ballots to be counted and counting those provisional ballots determined to be eligible. No person shall recklessly disclose the count or any portion of the count of provisional ballots in such a manner as to jeopardize the secrecy of any individual ballot.
Costs for Public Records
Those seeking public records will only be charged the actual cost of making copies, not labor. However, if the CCBOE elects, in its reasonable determination, to employ a contractor to perform the services necessary to produce a copy of the requested public records, the CCBOE may charge the requester the costs of the contractor’s services. Currently, the CCBOE’s actual costs of making copies in-house are as follows:
- The charge for paper copies is five (5) cents per page, with two-sided copies being charged as two copies, or 10 cents.
- The charge for electronic files downloaded to a compact disc is $1.00 per disc.
- The charge for electronic files downloaded to a USB drive is $7.00 each, with the USB drive provided by the CCBOE to ensure cyber security protocols.
- There is no charge for e-mailed documents.
If a requester asks that documents be mailed to them, he or she may be charged the actual cost of the postage and mailing supplies, or other actual costs of delivery. The CCBOE may require the requestor to pay in advance the actual cost involved in providing the copies, including postage.
The CCBOE’s records are subject to records retention schedules. Current schedules are available at 2925 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH, as required by Ohio Revised Code.
The Clerks to the Board are the records custodians for all non-personnel records. The Human Resources Manager is the custodian of personnel files for all CCBOE employees. Personnel records will be kept confidential to the extent permissible by the Ohio Public Records Act.
To ensure timely processing of public records requests, requestors are encouraged to contact the CCBOE using the following:
- Email – BOEPublicRecordsRequests@cuyahogacounty.gov
- Phone – 216-443-6435
- Mail – 2925 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115, c/o Clerks to the Board