Early Voting Begins, Boards Process New Registrations

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At first glance, an observer at the Mahoning County Board of Elections yesterday might have thought it was Nov. 8.

Outside the polling station at the board’s offices at Oakhill Renaissance Place, supporters of candidates and issues on this fall’s general election ballot, along with the occasional local elected official or candidate appearing in person, waited to greet voters, making one last stab at swaying them before they cast their ballots on the first day of early voting in Ohio.

Inside, a line of about 20 voters waiting to cast their ballots snaked to the polling station, filling out requests for absentee ballots before they voted at one of the 22 voting booths.

“It’s been like this way all morning – steady and going pretty,” said Tom McCabe, deputy director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections. “The lines are moving pretty quickly.”

Still, the early voting activity was “busy but not overwhelming,” closer to the 2012 election than 2008, McCabe observed.

Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections, reported turnout as “excellent” Wednesday. “Right now we actually have a line out the doors,” she said. By the close of business Tuesday, 550 voters had cast ballots, she reported.

At the Columbiana County Board of Elections, 108 voters cast their ballots Tuesday, said Adam Booth, director. Traffic was “on and off,” he reported. “We had a moderate presence in the lobby most of the day.”

Tuesday was the final day for Ohioans to register to vote. The new registrations are still being processed, including more than 1,000 that were dropped off Tuesday, McCabe reported. So far about 7,000 new Mahoning County voters have registered since the March primary.

To date 164,898 voters are registered in Mahoning County, down from 170,178 in 2012, the last presidential election, and 178,720 in 2008, reports Chris Rakocy, information technology manager for the elections board.

The decline in the number of registered voters reflects population shifts and voter maintenance efforts to purge the rolls of “people who just didn’t vote,” McCabe said.

Trumbull County’s Penrose said she’s “never seen such a busy close of registration.” Even so, it doesn’t compare to 2008, when the county had “stacks and stacks “ of new registrations, she said. So far, there are 139,058 voters registered in the county, with more to be processed. That compares to 149,261 in 2008.

In Columbiana County about 66,000 voters are registered, Booth said. “We have a pretty good stack to get caught up on,” he said, and did not have numbers available on new registrations.

Population has declined in all three counties, according to U.S. Census data. In 2008, population levels were at 239,609 in Mahoning County, 211,156 in Trumbull County and 108,106 in Columbiana County. Those compare to July 2014: 231,906 in Mahoning, 203,751 in Trumbull and 104,806 in Columbiana.

While total registration has declined, interest in voting by absentee ballot is growing. In 2008, the first presidential election that no-fault absentee voting was an option, 26,686 requested ballots by mail and 15,888 voted in office, Mahoning County’s McCabe said. In 2012, 13,467 cast in-office absentee ballots and 30,864 requested ballots by mail.

As of yesterday, the Mahoning County board had received some 27,000 mail-in requests. Absentee request can be made up through noon Saturday the weekend prior to the Nov. 8 general election.

“We’re pretty confident we’re going to exceed that [2012] number quite a bit, which is a good thing. People are getting used to the system,” McCabe said. “It helps on Election Day to keep the lines manageable.”

As of yesterday, Trumbull County had slightly over 17,000 requests so far for absentee ballots by mail, compared with more than 13,000 requested for the 2008 general election.

Nearly 6,800 have requested mailed ballots so far in Columbiana County, Booth said. In 2012, of the 10,500 who took advantage of early voting, 7,500 did so by mail, he noted.

Continued international interest in voting shifts in Mahoning County was reflected Wednesday by the presence of a crew from Tokyo Broadcasting System. While covering the presidential election in general, foreign correspondent Shota Sato said he and his crew also were working on a story focusing on trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

They were drawn to Youngstown by news coverage of voters in the Democratic stronghold of the Mahoning Valley switching their support to Republicans, Sato said. Although he had anticipated talking to more Republicans yesterday morning coming out to support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, early on the “vast majority” of the people he spoke to were Democrats. “The reason they are voting is they don’t want the Republican candidate to be in the White house. That’s what they say,” he said.

Sato said he’s found that Trump supporters aren’t bothered by a 2005 video released last Friday that showed Trump boasting that his celebrity status let him kiss women without their consent and even grope them.

During Sunday night’s presidential debate, Trump dismissed the comments as “locker room talk” and denied he had engaged in the acts he described.

“They were saying that Donald Trump’s comments don’t bother them. They were more concerned about Hillary Clinton going to the White House,” Sato said.


Above: Japanese journalist Shota Sato interviews Jim Burrell of Struthers after he cast his vote at the Mahoning County Elections Board.

Donna Calhoun of Ellsworth Township and Marilyn Droney of Youngstown sat across from the polling station with signs supporting Trump.

“Irredeemable, deplorable women – that’s who we are,” Calhoun joked, referring to disparaging comments Clinton made regarding some Trump supporters, which she later said she regretted.

Calhoun said she had been getting positive feedback regarding Trump. “Women just seem to absolutely love him,” she said.

“Most women want a strong leader. They want a man that’s not afraid to lead,” Droney affirmed. She dismissed negative press coverage of Trump as “propaganda.”

Several voters approached as they were leaving the Mahoning County Elections Board declined to discuss how they voted Wednesday, or what issues were of concern to them. Those who did backed Clinton.

“I wouldn’t consider voting for [Trump] in a million years,” said Nick Frangos of Campbell. Frangos said he was going to be out of town on Election Day and wanted to get his ballot cast early.

Rose Jordan of Youngstown was emphatic about why she voted yesterday: to “make sure Trump doesn’t get in.” She said she doesn’t like the way he talks about women or the border wall he has proposed to build. The black woman also said Trump “doesn’t like us whatsoever.” She said she mostly likes how Clinton talks about opportunities for blacks, as well as how she talks about young people and the elderly.

Cortland Casey of Austintown said he wanted to get his vote cast for Clinton. “I’m proud of it. I make it no secret,” he remarked. Factors he considered included the qualifications of the candidates, personalities and knowledge of the job.

Anne Garwig and David Lucas, both of Youngstown, had supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary – Garwig was a Sanders delegate – but turned out yesterday to vote for Clinton.

“I voted for Hillary because I said I would and Bernie wants us to,” she said.

Because of the “X-factor” of Trump, Lucas said it was important to get out and vote. The issue that was important to him was the integrity of those running for office. “I know that’s been in question for both major candidates,” he acknowledged.

Pictured at top: Early voters wait their turn at the Mahoning County Elections Board.

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