DNC Poll Watchers Stand Guard as Hundreds Stand in Line

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — They were resolute and cold. They stood in a line quietly, talking among themselves, if at all, as sporadic rain and wind gusts threatened to knock some off their feet.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes,” said a woman from Campbell, determined that her voice would be heard.

She and her husband stood near the end of the line at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. A few hundred residents of Mahoning County, all of them wearing masks, stood in front of them as the line stretched from the far end of the parking lot to the entrance of the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

It would be an hour before this couple would get inside the building and then another 15 minutes or so to reach front of the line inside the voting center.

Those who stood in line Sunday, the longest early-voting lines in Mahoning County this presidential election season, were circumspect, eyes straight ahead. Few wanted to talk to a reporter, unless it was about the weather.

“I wish it was 25 degrees warmer,” said a senior citizen. “At least the line is moving along.”

Among those who did comment were Ruth and Manny from Boardman, who volunteered their intentions (but not their last names).

“We both voted Green Party last time,” said Manny.

“This time we want to make sure a change is made,” added Ruth. “I’ll just leave it at that but we’ll stick with a major party.”

Across the street, Rep. Michelle Lepore Hagan and her husband, former state Sen. Robert Hagan, were jubilant at seeing how long the line stretched.

“It’s going to reach 80%,” exclaimed Robert Hagan, confirming turnout estimates offered by county officials.

Spotted in line were former state Sen. John Boccierri and his daughter. Boccierri, also a former member of the U.S. Congress, lives in Poland and commands the 911th Operations Group at the Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station.

“I’m very inspired by the turnout,” Boccierri said. “It’s an amazing sight when you see democracy in action.”

Across Ohio – and across the country – early voting turnout has greatly exceeded expectations – and 2016 numbers.

Nationwide, according to the U.S. Elections Project, as of 4:22 p.m. Sunday, 93,254,861 Americans had cast ballots, either in person at early voting sites or by mail. That number represents 67.7% of the total votes cast in the previous presidential election.

In Ohio, early voting equals 50.9% of the 2016 turnout; in Pennsylvania, where early voting and mailing absentee ballot applications practice is relatively new, 39% of 2016 votes cast.

The U.S. Elections Project, the brainchild of a professor at the University of Florida, Michael McDonald, breaks down early voting at county levels as well.

These numbers, as of Oct. 31 are “data scrapped from county websites,” the Project states on its website. The figures do not differentiate between on-site early voting and voting by mail.

In Mahoning County, 70,996 mail and early ballots were requested and 90.2% — or 64,003 — have been returned (or voted), according to the site’s data.

The ballot return rate in Trumbull County is 90.5%, in Columbiana County 93.1%.

Mahoning and Trumbull County relied on a Cleveland vendor, Midwest Direct, to print and mail absentee ballots to those who applied for them. As reported Oct. 16 by the Associated Press, “equipment challenges at the company and ‘unparalleled volume’ ” delayed printing and mailing of hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots in Ohio. The hold-up was expected to be resolved the week of Oct. 18.

Still, some voters who stood in line Saturday told poll-watchers from the Democratic National Committee that they had not received their ballots and were concerned their vote would not be counted.

“On Saturday we had a few minority women who said they didn’t get their ballots and were told the only way they could vote was with a provisional ballot,” said Christina Das, president of the Brooklyn Youngstown Democrats and one of three law students who comprised a poll-watching team sent here by the DNC as part of its 2020 Victory Battleground Ohio project.

Provisional ballots are closely reviewed before being accepted and counted at the end of the tabulation.

Like her colleagues, Das was schooled in Ohio election law at three training sessions. During early [in-person] voting, Ohioans should be able to cast a regular ballot even if they applied for an absentee ballot, she explained. Only on Election Day are voters in similar circumstances required to vote provisionally.

The irregularity was logged and sent to the DNC for follow up, Das said. So was a situation Saturday that poll-watchers said could be construed as one form of voter suppression.

A deputy sheriff guarding the entrance to the elections board advised voters, as Das related, to “get your drivers licenses out. Let’s move this line along.”

The DNC poll watchers told the deputy that Ohio law does not require driver’s licenses during early voting, that other confirmations of identity are accepted.

“Some people in line looked confused and others started looking for IDs,” Das explained. “When he continued to say that, we moved the complaint up the chain and sent it to the lawyers with DNC and Battleground Ohio. Then they called the elections board and it stopped.”

Joining Das on the DNC team were Doug Rosenthal and Julia Sachs, who said they, too, encountered voters who were forced to cast provisional ballots. But the biggest problem Sunday, according to Sachs, was voters seeing the long line when they arrived at the voting center, then turning around and driving away.

Early in-person voting resumes in Mahoning County this morning at 8 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m.

Ohio polls open at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Pictured at top: Law students dispatched as poll watchers in Mahoning County by the Democratic National Committee as part of its 2020 Victory Battleground Ohio project. From left: Julia Sachs, Christina Das and Doub Rosenthal.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.