Big Crowds Turn Out for Start of Early Voting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There was steady traffic at local boards of elections this morning as Ohio launched early voting today. 

At 8 a.m., a line of about 80 voters waited for the Mahoning County Board of Elections to open its doors for the start of voting. About an hour later, that line wrapped around to the back of the building.

“There’s an amazing energy on the ground here in the Mahoning Valley to get out and vote,” said U.S. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio. Ryan joined Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan and other Democrats outside the board offices at Oakhill Renaissance Place for an Ohio Democratic Party event to kick off early voting.

“It tells me people want their voices to be heard,” Brown said. 

“This is fantastic,” affirmed Steve Kristan, a Canfield Republican running for Mahoning County commissioner, who also was outside the board offices this morning. After months of restrictions to activities because of the coronavirus pandemic, people are anxious to go out and cast their ballots, he said.  

Similarly, a long line awaited voters at the Trumbull County Board of Elections in Youngstown. A voter who arrived just before 8 a.m. reported waiting an hour to utilize the county’s new voting center, which is adjacent to the board’s offices on U.S. Route 422.

“We are having tremendous turnout but everything is running like a well-oiled machine,” reported Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County board of Elections. In fact, one voter complimented the employees on how well things were running at the center. 

Turnout today is “over and above” what Penrose anticipated. By 11 a.m., 348 in-person ballots were cast.

“I expected a line. I didn’t expect a line down Central Parkway,” she said.    

Bryce Miner, deputy director of the Columbiana County Board of Elections, reported similar enthusiasm. A line of about a dozen voters were waiting for the board to open its offices and start early voting. As of 11:30 a.m. 143 voters in the county had cast ballots. 

“As expected, our turnout on the first day of early voting has been high thus far. Prior to officially opening our office this morning we had a line of 10 to 15 voters ready to enter our building.” Miner said. “As an elections official, it is exciting to see voters getting their opportunity to cast their ballot. After months of preparation by our tremendous staff, I look forward to assisting voters exercise their right as an American.”

The 2016 election was decided by people who didn’t vote, said Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown, outside the Mahoning County board offices. 

“This is about the future for our children. This is for them. We are exercising the right for them to have a future they are hopeful about,” she said. 

Voters said they were motivated by the hotly contested presidential election and they indicated a strong bias toward the Democratic nominee, former Vide President Joe Biden. None of the six voters interviewed for this story said they were voting to give President Donald Trump a second term. 

Gregory Warren of Youngstown, who arrived to vote about 7:55 a.m., said he wasn’t surprised by the turnout. “People want to get out and vote if they can, if they’re able,” he said. 

Every time progress is made on issues that are important to him, it seems that progress takes two steps back, the former General Motors Lordstown worker said. The issues driving him this election include police brutality, social justice and economic disparity. 

Eva Sullivan of Poland said the current administration is “harmful to the country” and, like other voters, was critical of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as his disregard for laws and the Constitution. 

“People have strong feelings, one way or another,” she acknowledged. “My sister’s are way different from my sister’s but they’re both very strong – stronger than any other election in my lifetime.” 

Warren Rorabaugh of Canfield said he expected to have gotten there early enough to be further along in the line but didn’t mind the wait. 

“It’s necessary. It’s a right. Anything to dump Trump,” he said. He dismissed the value of Trump’s business experience and said he lacked the intelligence to serve as president. 

Mike Bolevich of Boardman wanted to vote today to avoid longer lines later. The former Marine, who served in Vietnam, was critical of remarks attributed to Trump, reported by The Atlantic, that disparaged veterans. 

“I’m not a sucker and I’m not a loser,” he said.   

Voting is always important but more so this year, Bevy Brown of Canfield said. The United States and democracy are at stake. Her vote for Biden is driven by concerns about equal rights, the environment, women’s right and “truth coming from the White House,” she said.  

Lorraine Chapel of Youngstown was concerned about voting by mail. She was displeased with Trump’s behavior, such as when he has mocked reporters and yelled at women reporters specifically, along with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The country is ready to get out and vote, but what’s happened in the last week is or so has really gotten a lot of people very concerned about what’s happening in the country right now,” Ryan said, referring to Trump’s performance at the presidential debate a week ago and the coronavirus, for which the president spent the weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“They want to make sure that they can cast their vote to make a difference,” Ryan said, adding that he had spoken with a few Republicans this morning who planned to make the opposite choice and cast their ballots for Biden. 

In the 2016 election, many local voters who have historically voted for Democrats joined Republicans and independents to cast their ballots for Trump, turning traditionally blue Trumbull County red in the presidential race and narrowing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in Mahoning County, another traditionally blue area.   

The legislators and Kristan also weighed in on Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s decision to permit additional drop boxes for absentee ballots but only at boards of elections offices. 

Lepore-Hagan, who in March introduced legislation she had been working on for more than a year to establish universal voting by mail, said she was “offended” by LaRose’s decision and rejected his position that the Ohio General Assembly needs to address a solution legislatively. 

“The metal and sheet workers have volunteered to make the drop boxes for us cost-free, and we could put them around police stations and libraries,” she said. 

Not permitting the receptacles at other locations is “a mistake,” Ryan added. 

“We’ve got to increase access and, and part of the benefit of the drop box is making sure that it’s accessible to people in different parts of the counties that are big.”

Kristan, who said LaRose has “done a lot of good work,” agreed with the secretary of state’s decision, but acknowledged the state should look at the election system following the Nov. 3 election. 

“We want to make sure we give people proper availability to vote,” he said.

Pictured: By 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, the line for early voting at the Mahoning County Board of Elections wrapped around the building. 

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.