early voting

Ohio Early Voting Doubles 2016 Rate; Way Up Across Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Tuesday’s activity at the Mahoning County Board of Elections was unlike any other presidential year.

A steady stream of motorists lined up to place their absentee ballots in a secured, drive-up drop box installed in front of Oakhill Renaissance Place, where the board’s offices are located. Only yards away around the corner of the building, socially distanced voters formed a line to enter the board offices to cast their in-person early ballots.

Among those who cast their ballots Tuesday afternoon was Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. He joined mayors in Akron, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo in a “march to the polls” event sponsored by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign.

“The majority of the Big Eight mayors took it upon ourselves to say today is going to be the day that we go out and cast our early vote,” Brown said, as he handed out Biden T-shirts, signs, masks and buttons brought by the Ohio Democratic Party.

Getting through the line took all of 10 minutes, he said.

SOURCE: Ohio Secretary of State.

Early voting in Ohio opened Oct. 6, when county boards of elections began fulfilling requests for mailed absentee ballots and permitted in-person voting at their offices or designated sites.

So far, about 1.1 million Ohioans have cast ballots for the general election, more than double the rate in 2016. Nearly three times the number of Ohioans are voting early in-person compared to the same time in 2016, according to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Additionally, more than a third of Ohio registered voters have requested the opportunity to vote early, and returns of absentee ballots are outpacing those of four years ago.

“Inspiring. There’s no other word for it,” LaRose said. “With two weeks until election day, our record-breaking turnout is sending a message: it’s easy to vote in Ohio.”

Traffic flow for in-person early voting and absentee drop-off have been consistent at the Mahoning County Board of Elections since the beginning of early voting. “It’s been pretty steady,” said Tom McCabe, deputy director.

As of midday Tuesday, 57,954 of Mahoning County’s 165,383 registered voters — nearly 30% — have either requested ballots or voted in person, he said. That includes 7,952 who already voted in person and 48,826 who requested ballots to be mailed, about 19,000 of which have been returned already.

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown voted Tuesday as part of a “march to the polls” event with other Ohio city mayors.

That figure doesn’t include the five trays of mail received Tuesday, nor does it include the absentee ballots collected from the drop box, which is emptied hourly, he said.

“This should be a high turnout election,” affirmed Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections.

Trumbull County has 135,696 registered voters. As of Monday night, 7,828 ballots were cast in person and 41,211 absentee ballots were requested — 36% of all registered voters, with 18,293 returned so far, she said. The early voting center, which is adjacent to the Trumbull board’s offices, is seeing a steady flow of 650 to 850 people daily. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the process,” she said.

Response also has been positive on the drop box, through which the board has received more ballots than through the mail.

“We are experiencing record turnout for mail-in absentee and in-office early voting in Columbiana County,” said Bryce Miner, deputy director of the county’s board of elections. “Our office has had a consistent line of voters eager to cast their ballot since early voting began on Oct. 6.”

Of Columbiana County’s 65,867 registered voters, 3,328 have cast in-person ballots and 16,370 requested mailed ballots, of which 8,346 have been returned.

A bipartisan team of elections officials routinely checks Columbiana County’s drop box, Miner said.

“We check the box first thing when opening the office and lastly before we leave the office at the close of the day,” he continued. “Depending on foot traffic, we additionally check the box throughout the day upwards of three to five times.”

But absentee ballot return rates in Mahoning and Trumbull counties are suppressed by the delay in fulfilling absentee ballot requests at Cleveland-based Midwest Direct, an outside vendor that prints absentee ballots. The company has drawn criticism over flying a campaign flag over its headquarters this summer in support of President Donald Trump.

“Ballots went out a little slower than anticipated due to the volume of requests,” Penrose said. “All ballots requested have been sent,” with the exception of a file sent Monday night.

“It’s a good company. It really is,” said McCabe, who also is chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party. The county has used the company for about a decade, he noted.

Like Penrose, McCabe attributed the delay to Midwest Direct being caught off guard by the volume of the requests, as well as problems with a piece of equipment. Although the company was keeping up with printing of the ballots, the issue was with getting those ballots into envelopes and to the post office.

The company now is up-to-date, he said.

“We were pretty fortunate. Our first batch, around 32,000, went out on Oct. 6 and the other 16,000 or so went out last week, and we know those voters are getting their ballots this week,” McCabe reported.

The Mahoning County board already has switched to in-house printing of absentee ballots for any new requests, and Trumbull County will switch after this week, officials said.

Columbiana County uses a different vendor, Graphic Village in Cincinnati, which did not experience the same issues as Midwest Direct, Miner said.

Trumbull County doesn’t track general election voting by party affiliation, but in Mahoning County, Democrats as of last week were outpacing Republicans in early voting a ratio of three to one, McCabe said. Going back to 2008, Democrats have had an early-voting advantage, but that doesn’t mean an increase in turnout.

“It just changes how they vote,” he said.

Columbiana County reports 4,098 votes cast by Democrats, 4,655 by Republicans, 8,190 by voters who list no party affiliation and one Green voter.

“Being that it is a presidential election, I fully anticipate a high turnout. Each political party has rallied voters citing this election as the most important election in our nation’s history in an effort to get voters to the polls,” Miner said. “Our early voting numbers have reflected the get-out-to-vote movement and I fully expect to see a large turnout at the polls on Election Day as well.”

Pictured at top: Cars are lined up outside the Mahoning County Elections Board as voters wait their turn to drop off absentee ballots.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.