August election: Officials plan for primaries that add costs, need for workers

For all the wrangling that went into scheduling it, the Aug. 2 primary election looks to be pretty low-key.

With few contested races on the ballot for state legislative seat primaries, boards of elections around the Miami Valley are expecting low turnout and reducing the number of poll workers.

“We expect turnout to be exceedingly low as the only contested offices on the ballot in Montgomery County are for the central committees of the two major state political parties,” said Sarah Greathouse, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

The elections office has sent out 78 military or overseas ballots, a slight increase from May. A few voters have joined the list since then, she said.

Montgomery County has about 600 applications for absentee ballots, which is about half the number sent for the May primary. People can still apply for those during the next two weeks, Greathouse said.

A dozen or so of the usual polling locations aren’t available Aug. 2, so affected voters will be mailed a notice of their new temporary polling place in mid-July, she said.

“We will also post signs at their regular polling locations with a QR code and phone number to help them find their temporary location,” Greathouse said.

Montgomery County usually has more than 100 polling places.

The board of elections unanimously decided June 1 to cut the number of poll workers due to expected low turnout, so the county needs 700 to 900 instead of 1,500 to 2,000, she said.

“We generally over-recruit due to last minute call-offs,” Greathouse said.

ExploreOfficials prepare for rare August primary: Here are the candidates and issues on local...

County boards of elections statewide began sending ballots June 17 to active-duty military and voters overseas. For those currently in Ohio, the registration deadline for voting in the Aug. 2 primary is July 5, and in-person early voting starts the following day.

A few counties already had local issues scheduled for an Aug. 2 vote, but the partisan primaries for state House and Senate seats — along with seats on the major parties’ central committees, which are dependent on state legislative district boundaries — were postponed from May 3 to Aug. 2 due to the months-long legal wrangle over House and Senate district maps.

After the state Supreme Court rejected five sets of Republican-sponsored maps as unconstitutionally favoring that political party, a panel of federal judges ordered the use of one of those sets of map only for the 2022 election cycle. The Ohio Redistricting Commission must eventually reconvene to draw maps for future elections.

A number of House and Senate primary elections are uncontested. There are contested races for Democratic and Republican state central committee seats, but those generally draw little public attention.

Around the region

Parts of Butler County will see competitive Republican primaries for House districts 46 and 47. Matt King is challenging incumbent Thomas Hall in the former, while Cody Harper faces incumbent Sara Carruthers in the latter.

With few candidates and the election split between May 3 and Aug. 2, turnout for this second round of voting is likely to be low, said Eric Corbin, deputy director of the Butler County Board of Elections. The biggest draw on the Butler County ballot may not be a legislative seat but a tax levy for the Ross Local School District, he said.

“I always hesitate to give estimates, but I will say that given the fact we were at 16.9% in the May election, my guess is that we will be in the single digits, unfortunately,” Corbin said.

Champaign County has a three-way Republican primary for the District 85 House seat, between Tim Barhorst, Rochiel Foulk and Lilli Johnson Vitale, wife of outgoing state Rep. Nino Vitale, who is term-limited.

One of Clark County’s 44 polling locations has to be changed from May. a local church couldn’t host voters on Aug. 2, so officials are searching for an alternative, said Amber Lopez, deputy director of the Clark County Board of Elections.

Cards will be mailed to all affected voters, and signs will be posted on Election Day at the old location notifying people of the new polling place, she said.

“So far indications are that turnout is going to be pretty low, just in terms of the number of absentee ballot applications we’ve received at this point,” Lopez said.

Only about a third as many absentee ballot requests have come in for the Aug. 2 election as had by the same time prior to the May 3 election, she said.

The only competitive primary in Greene County is for House District 70, with incumbent Republican Brian Lampton opposed by Katherine Shutte.

Miami County is testing all of its voting equipment, sending out absentee ballots for military and overseas voters and preparing for the July 6 start of early in-person voting at the board of elections office.

“So far, so good,” said Director of Elections Laura Bruns.

As of Thursday, Miami County had requests for 28 absentee ballots, including military and overseas voters, she said.

“We only have one contested race on each of the party ballots, and both are for state central committeewoman,” Bruns said.

ExploreWith new maps, statehouse incumbents unchallenged despite redrawn districts

Parts of Warren County will vote in a Republican primary for House District 55, pitting incumbent Scott Lipps against Thomas Goodwin.

Warren County had only received 60 applications by Thursday for absentee ballots, fewer than before the May primary, which was also slow, said Brian Sleeth, Warren County Board of Elections director and president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

Officials there have to move one polling location in Carlisle, but that’s not due to the extra election, he said.

“We closed one location and combined it with another current polling location,” Sleeth said.

Warren County also hosts the only competitive primary for both parties, with Joy Bennett and Sam Cao vying for the Democratic nomination for House District 56, while Kathy Grossman and Adam Mathews do the same for Republicans. One of them will replace outgoing state Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, who is term-limited.

Several local House and Senate races have no Democrats on the ballot at all. The only Democratic legislator from the Miami Valley, state Rep. Willis Blackshear of Dayton, doesn’t face any Democratic or Republican challengers.

Election funding and staffing

When the Aug. 2 primary date was set, election officials across the state voiced concerns that it would drive up their costs and leave them scrambling to recruit enough poll workers.

Although many counties expect to need fewer poll workers Aug. 2 than they do for higher-turnout elections, they’re all still open to recruits for the Nov. 8 general election and beyond. Anyone interested in working the polls can start the process at pollworkertracker.ohiosos.gov/signup.

Legislators tucked $20 million to fund the August election into House Bill 377, which is otherwise a $500 million development package for Ohio’s Appalachian region. Gov. Mike DeWine hasn’t signed the bill yet, but he praised its passage on June 1, and the Appalachian funding was his proposal. It reached the governor’s desk June 16, and he has until June 28 to sign it, according to DeWine’s press secretary Dan Tierney.

Election officials in several counties said that additional funding should be enough or more than enough to cover costs of this additional primary.

Corbin said he’ll be “very relieved” when DeWine signs the bill for additional election funding.

“Despite the fact that the turnout’s going to be low, that doesn’t necessarily change our costs,” Corbin said.

The board still has to operate the same number of polling locations and voting machines, though fewer poll workers will be needed because of expected low turnout, he said.

Poll workers are paid for training and working Election Day. Their pay averages $100 to $150 and could be as high as $200 in some counties.

Bruns said the Ohio Secretary of State’s office has told Miami County how much it should get, and that amount is “well over what we require.”

Montgomery County should get more than $600,000 from the latest round of election funding, enough to cover the primary’s cost, Greathouse said.

But election officials there and statewide have lost valuable time — not just at work but with their families — working maps and extra election.

“Our system is strong and resilient, but it is a system of people, and they have been pushed to the breaking point,” she said.

About the Author