Election Boards Manage Voting Amid ‘Rigged’ Claims

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A blue sandwich board sign at one of the entrances at Oakhill Renaissance Place, where the Mahoning County Board of Elections is housed, advertises a not-widely known – or widely available – option for voters to cast their ballot, curbside voting.

The idea isn’t for voters to simply pull up to the door and order a ballot as though they were ordering dinner at a drive-thru window. The option — which Tom McCabe, deputy director of the elections board, says has been in place at least as long as he has been with the board, 18 years — is to make voting simpler for those with physical handicaps who would require assistance to enter a poling place and get situated at a polling station.

“We don’t publicize it a lot,” McCabe said. “It’s a nice service that’s provided for people.” About 10 people each day use the option.”

Anyone with a physical handicap who can’t make it into the poling place for any reason can request a curbside ballot, which is provided under state law, McCabe said.

“We do send a Republican and a Democrat out with their application, they fill it out in their car and then we take the ballot out to them and they vote in their car,” he said.

CurbsideVoting

Virtually every action involving elections in Ohio, in fact, requires at least one representative of each of the two major political parties. The issue of election integrity has come to the fore as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has claimed in recent weeks that the presidential election is “rigged” in favor of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

During Wednesday night’s final presidential debate, Trump declined to state that he would accept the results of the election.

“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time,” he said, a response that drew widespread and bipartisan rebukes.

McCabe, a Republican, finds Trump’s rhetoric about election shenanigans “somewhat offensive,” as well as wrong. The GOP nominee is using “unfounded allegations and concerns” and playing off voters’ fears, he said.

“It’s important the public has faith in how the system works and that it’s honest, because it is,” he said.

McCabe and Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections in Warren, point to safeguards in place to prevent tampering, As reflected by the curbside voting system, virtually every action is performed with a Democrat and a Republican present. Vaults where ballots are stored before and after ballots are cast require a key assigned to each party for access.

Board of elections members and staff also are split between the two parties, the county officials noted.

Trump’s rhetoric regarding the prospect of the election being rigged is “disheartening,” Penrose remarked. Elections board staff work long hours, holidays and weekends.

“Yesterday was a short day. We only worked 11 hours,’ she said.

Like McCabe, Penrose said election board employees work in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican. “We always have the two parties present,” she said.

Among those defending Trump’s position is Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party and a member of the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

Of the election runs well with “no major problems,” the GOP nominee “should of course accept the outcome” but Trump is just saying there is no way to know in advance if there will be major problems, Munroe said.

“Naturally, if there is documented evidence of tampering, hacking, etc., we need to understand and investigate before accepting the outcome. With all the hacking going on, a certain skepticism might be understandable, even though we believe the possibility is very remote,” he explained.

“We have a strong, decentralized voting system in the country with many safeguards, but there is nothing wrong with citizen concern when it comes to the inner workings of government institutions,” Munroe continued. “That does not seem to be an unreasonable position.”

McCabe and Penrose report early voting is going well in their respective counties, with requests for mail-in ballots running higher than normal.

As of Thursday midday, the Trumbull County board had received requests for 18,285 absentee ballots, more than the 14,289 for the 2012 presidential election. In-office ballots cast so far were at 2,715, compared with a total of 11,052 during the 2012 election.

In Mahoning County, mail-in requests were at 27,210 as of Wednesday night, compared with a mail-in total of 30,864 in 2012, McCabe reported. In-office voting stood at 2,234, compared to a total of 13,467 four years ago.

“The walk-in vote is a little bit down from four years ago, but the ballots by mail are actually up from four years ago” McCabe said. Taken together, “We’re running about even with 2012 right now,” he added.

Penrose attributed the higher mail-in participation to a mailing sent to registered voters by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. “That makes a big difference,” she said. She also noted that the 2012 election featured an incumbent president on the ballot. “This time everybody is fresh and new and exciting,” she remarked.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.