Election Season Kicks into High Gear as Early Voting Begins in Ohio

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As officials at the boards of elections in Mahoning and Trumbull counties prepared for the start of early voting, the two major candidates for the congressional district that covers both were making their respective cases for and against President Donald Trump.  

Approximately 302,000 residents of Mahoning and Trumbull counties were registered to vote as of Monday afternoon, but that total is expected to rise over the next few days as the counting concludes. Registration for the Nov. 3 election closed at the election board offices at 9 p.m. Monday night. 

Mailed registration applications postmarked by Monday will be counted when they are received at board offices, and registrations must also be picked up from county libraries and deputy registrars.

Meanwhile, early voting kicks off this morning in Ohio’s 88 counties. 

“There’s going to be a lot of people to come out on the first day,” predicted Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections.  

The Trumbull board was putting the finishing touches Monday on a voting center in a vacant bank building adjacent to its offices, Penrose said. As of Monday morning, nearly 137,000 county residents were registered to vote. 

At the height of early voting in 2016, people cast about 80 ballots per hour, Penrose reported. “I would foresee it being something like that” again this year,” she said.

“The first day is usually pretty busy,” said Tom McCabe, deputy director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections. In 2016, more than 300 voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting, with a steady flow throughout the day. 

As of Monday afternoon, 165,401 voters in Mahoning County were registered, McCabe said. He predicted that would exceed 166,000 – about the number registered four years ago – once the final registrations are collected and counted.  

In the 2016 general election, the county had approximately 14,000 voters cast walk-in ballots.  

“We expect a good crowd,” McCabe said. “There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t get a good response on the first day of voting.” 

Interest in the presidential election and concerns about the safety of in-person voting during the pandemic has resulted in a surge in requests for absentee ballots. Those ballots can be requested up through the Saturday before the election. Officials urge interested voters to request ballots as soon as possible so they can be received and prepared for counting, and to avoid ballots being received too late. 

So far, the Mahoning County elections board has received 46,500 requests for mailed absentee ballots, compared with 28,000 for the entire 2016 general election, McCabe said. 

Some of those are from voters who submitted two or three requests, he said. “I don’t think 50,000 is unreasonable to expect at this point,” he said.     

In 2016, Trumbull County issued more than 19,000 ballots by mail, Penrose recalled. 

“We’ve already blown 2016 out of the water,” Penrose said. “We’re at roughly 40,000 requested so far.” 

The local elections officials also weighed in on Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s decision to permit additional drop boxes for absentee ballots, but only permitting them to be installed at board offices. 

Democrats had challenged LaRose’s claim that he was not permitted under Ohio law to authorize dropboxes at sites other than boards of elections. LaRose is also permitting county election boards to station bipartisan election officials outside of board offices to accept absentee ballots.

“Placing multiple drop boxes at the same location does not simplify Ohio’s voting process. Secretary of State LaRose had the opportunity to make it easier for all Ohioans to vote, but he chose not to do so,” said state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-28 Akron, in a statement. “Unfortunately, leaders in Ohio lack the political will to expand voter access and increase participation in our elections.” 

Having offsite dropboxes would be “a security risk” and “a logistical nightmare,” Penrose said. “We’re prepared to empty the one we have as often as need be.” 

The receptacle is being checked two or three times daily, but after absentee ballots are mailed Tuesday, she expects to check the box at least hourly.

This close to Election Day, it’s not likely that Mahoning County would have moved ahead with additional boxes offsite, McCabe said. The county has both a walk-up box and a drive-up box, each monitored by camera, he said.

“We have a good system in Ohio,” he said. “Under the current law, Frank LaRose did everything he could.”     

The question of greatest interest this fall is the race for president, as Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden seeks to deny the President Donald J. Trump a second term. 

On Monday, former state Rep. Christina Hagan was at the Boardman headquarters of the Mahoning County Republican Party. The GOP nominee working to unseat U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan joined participants in the Women for Trump bus tour there.

“We are going to take out ‘Lying Tim Ryan’ because everybody knows that the jobs and the economy can be strengthened and we can prosper again in northeastern Ohio,” Hagan said. “We need a leader who’s willing to work with the president of the United States.”

About 50 Trump supporters gathered at the GOP office to hear from Hagan and Trump surrogates Madison Gesiotto, Kiyan Michael and U.S. Rep. Carol Miller of West Virginia.

“They know that they are in the battleground of the battleground states,” Hagan said. 

Trump has done more for the U.S economy than any other president, said Miller. “We were absolutely booming until the Chinese gave us their little virus,” she asserted.

Miller’s support was unshaken by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. After being taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday, the president was treated over the weekend and returned to the White House Monday evening.

“There have been a lot of contradictory projections, contradictory facts.” A lot of what is now known about the virus has been learned “on the run,” Miller said. “Everything we’ve done has been done with the best of intentions.”

Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week after participating in events that did not follow public health guidelines to prevent its spread. That included an event to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court nominee, during which masks and social distancing recommendations were not followed, and a fundraising event.

In the days afterward, several attendees at the events announced they had tested positive for the virus, including U.S. Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, members of the White House press corps and housekeepers. 

Ryan, the Democrat who represents Ohio’s 13th Congressional district, participated Monday in a virtual press conference hosted by Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group. He joined other House Democrats who represent districts in swing states as the group released a report detailing jobs offshored during the Trump Administration.

The report was compiled by analyzing “a massive amount of trade adjustment assistance” and U.S. spending data, said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

“This is extremely consequential information that ties into what’s happening on the ground in states,” Ryan said. 

According to the report, more than 200,000 jobs have been offshored to date during Trump’s presidency, and the corporations involved received federal contracts worth $425 billion. “That contradicts Trump’s promise to voters,” Wallach said. 

No one understands the importance of how to talk about such issues better than Trump, but the president is “just a salesman,” Ryan said. “There has been no action, and actions speak louder than words.”

The congressman shared how General Motors’ Lordstown plant had employed 4,000 workers when Trump took office, but was closed by the automaker in March 2019.

When the plant closed, Trump blamed the plant’s union president and the building was sold to Lordstown Motors Corp., Ryan said, also criticizing Trump for attempting to eliminate a federal loan program used to support electric vehicle manufacturers like Lordstown Motors and for failing to support consumer incentives to purchase such vehicles.

“The president tries to take credit when the sun comes out,” he said. “It’s important to note his policies have been for the old energy economy, not the new one.”       

Pictured: U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-3 W.Va., speaks during a Women for Trump event at the Mahoning County Republic Party offices. Also at the event is former state. Rep. Christina Hagan, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan for the Ohio 13th Congressional district.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.