Early voting on final day is brisk

Published: Monday, November 07, 2016 @ 1:36 PM

Early voting proves hugely popular - Produced by Lynn Hulsey

Even before the polls open on Election Day, 1.79 million Ohioans — 10,931 more than four years ago — have cast early ballots by mail and in-person, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said Monday.

“We saw a big rush at the end,” Husted said. Compared with the 2012 presidential election, mail-in voting dropped 46,760 while in-person climbed by 69,387, he said.

Montgomery County was among the many counties in Ohio that saw a surge of voters since Friday. Montgomery County broke its previous record for the number of people voting early in-person, according to Jan Kelly, director of the county board of elections.

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By the 2 p.m. cutoff 34,431 people had voted early in-person at the board office — up from 29,562 in 2012 and 28,092 in 2008. In those earlier years, voters had more days to vote in person. Counting mail-in ballots, Montgomery County had a total of 81,745 early voters.

Both parties have pushed early voting, which is growing in popularity throughout the state. While it has favored Democrats in the past, several Republican-dominated counties had high absentee totals this year, including 57,253 in Butler County, 44,034 in Warren and 29,186 in Greene.

Early in-person and mailed ballots are counted as soon as the polls close. “Immediately. 7:30 hits, the tabulation buttons go off,” Husted said.

Husted said early voting is a reflection in a change in voting patterns and doesn’t necessarily translate into more people voting. In fact, he said he isn’t predicting “the most robust turnout that we’ve seen,” despite all the attention the presidential race has received.

Although the election in all likelihood will be decided on Tuesday, Husted noted that provisional ballots and late-arriving absentee ballots, which numbered about 173,000 in 2012, are counted 10 days after Election Day. In the event of a close election, those ballots could come into play.

Automatic recounts in statewide elections are triggered if the vote margin is less than 0.0025 percent. If there are 5.5 million ballots cast, a vote margin of less than 13,750 would lead to an automatic recount.

Political scientists said the growing popularity of early voting shows people are looking for voting to be as convenient as possible.

“I think it will only grow,” said Paul Leonard, a Wright State University adjunct professor of political science at Wright State University.

Leonard, a Democrat and former mayor of Dayton and Ohio lieutenant governor, said Republicans “are going to have to stop fighting those kinds of (early voting) opportunities in state legislatures.”

Although Ohio’s Republican legislature has limited the number of days, Husted has argued that Ohioans have numerous opportunities to cast a ballot.

Daniel Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer, said campaigns are making early voting a bigger part of their strategy “in part because if you get those votes in the bank you don’t have to worry about them after the fact.”

The downside for voters, said Cedarville University’s Mark Caleb Smith, is that people who go early may not have all the information they need before casting a ballot.

“While it is a minority opinion I cannot imagine voting early in an election like this,” said Smith, director of the university’s Center for Political Studies. “With information coming out daily I would hate to cast a vote with less information. But that’s just me.”

Weekend voting, in particular, has been a hit during the two weekends it is allowed.

With newly renovated offices Montgomery County was voting 700 people every hour this weekend, said Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. About 6,000 people voted Saturday and Sunday and another 2,811 on Monday in Montgomery County.

“It’s working well,” Kelly said. “It’s a well-oiled machine. Voters are happy. When they are happy we are happy.”

Voters interviewed Monday said they were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was.

“I thought it was going to be really bad because traffic was bad coming in. But this was excellent,” said Karen Chance, 48, of Trotwood. “This was faster than when I normally go vote on Election Day.”

Jeffrey Powell of Harrison Twp. also voted on Monday.

“I have a busy morning tomorrow morning and I decided I would have to wait in line forever on Election Day.” Powell said. “Even though it is only one day early it seemed more convenient for me.”

LaToya Billingsley, 32, of Kettering, said she stopped by the board office today “just to get it out of the way” and because it is easier to do when her kids are in school.

Carol Costa, 66, and Lynn Thumser, both of Kettering, already voted and were at the board with a friend who was voting.

“Somebody from the Hillary campaign came to my house and said it would help the campaign if they knew I was voting early so I could be off their list,” Costa said.

Absentee ballots cast in area counties

County Ballots Cast

Butler 57,253

Champaign 5,987

Clark 21,266

Darke 7,774

Greene 29,186

Miami 19,454

Montgomery 81,745

Preble 5,053

Warren 44,034