Issue 1: Election officials’ turnout estimates vary widely as early votes pour in



Local elections offices hosted hundreds of early in-person voters and mailed out thousands of absentee ballots Tuesday on the first day of early voting for the August special election to decide Ohio Issue 1.

The level of activity Tuesday and the unusual single-issue election lead local election officials to have starkly different predictions on total voter turnout in a peculiar election.

Election officials with nine local county boards of elections told the Dayton Daily News that they’re expecting voter participation ranging anywhere from 10-30%. Overall, officials were hesitant to give concrete estimates due to the irregular nature of this year’s August election, which is the first time Ohioans have ever been asked to vote on a constitutional amendment in a special election.

Turnout has been a concern for this election after Republican lawmakers pushed to create the August election date to vote on Issue 1, which came just months after the state legislature banned August elections in nearly all scenarios on the grounds that they are expensive, often unnecessary and draw low voter engagement.

Logistically, turnout has been a concern for the Yes and No campaigns, which have been tasked with informing voters of the irregular election and swaying them on short notice. That concern has largely been echoed by local boards of elections, which have had to add the single-issue election to an already busy election season.

“It’s just hard to really guess; we really don’t have anything to compare it to,” said Brian Sleeth, Warren County elections director and past president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to (last year’s) August election because there were a lot of uncontested races on the ballot then. So, I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to sit back, wait and see.”

Last year, only 8% of registered Ohioans voted in the August special election.

Sleeth estimated that Warren County would see anywhere from 10-12% voter participation, compared to the 9.2% turnout the county saw last August. On Tuesday, his board sent out about 1,500 absentee ballots on day one — more than it sent out during last year’s entire August election period — and saw about 200 in-person early voters, compared to about 35 voters on the first day of early voting in August 2022.

Sleeth’s turnout estimate is the lowest from local election officials. He presumes that Tuesday’s activity will continue throughout early voting but will not be mirrored on election day on Aug. 8.

“I think election day is going to fizzle out, that’s just my own guesstimate here, but I can’t imagine election day being busy in August in the summertime on a Tuesday,” Sleeth said.

In Montgomery County, which saw a low 5.6% turnout in August 2022, Elections Director Jeff Rezabek guessed that the county will see 20% voter participation on Issue 1 — a guess that was partially informed by high activity from Tuesday morning that outpaced even this year’s May primary.

“This morning, we’ve already beat the numbers from opening days in May. There are active voters that are out there that are coming from both sides making sure their voice is heard on this constitutional amendment,” Rezabek said. His office sent out over 2,000 absentee ballots and hosted nearly 200 early voters on day one.

Clark County also is anticipating an increase from its 8.4% voter turnout from last August. On a busy opening day, Director Jason Baker predicted 20-30% voter participation on Issue 1, but said he’s prepared for much more.

“I’m purely shooting from the hip here as far as the turnout goes. I’m going to order enough ballots to handle at least a 60% turnout, but I’d rather be over prepared than under, you know what I mean?” Baker said. “It could level off, it could slow down, but I do not want to anticipate that. I’d rather just be prepared to keep moving forward with how we are.”

Baker’s high estimate was echoed by boards of elections in Champaign County, which is expecting a 15% turnout this year compared with a 9% turnout last year; and Miami County, which is expecting anywhere from 25-30% this year after 6.4% last August.

“Its very hard to predict, only because this election in August is nothing like the election we had last August. It’s going to be higher,” said Miami County Board of Elections Executive Director Laura Bruns “It’s so hard to say; 25 to 30 (percent) would be my guess at this point, but it’s very hard to predict this one. We prepare for 100%, it’s not going to be that, obviously, but it’s going to be higher than a typical August.”

Other counties’ election officials forecast a smaller turnout. Preble County, which saw a 7.65% turnout last August, is expecting only 11% turnout on Issue 1, despite a relatively busy Tuesday and a significant influx of registered voters before the Monday deadline. In Butler County, officials are at least expecting to eclipse the 8.4% participation mark it hit last August.

“We’re expecting (at least) an 8.4% turnout because we feel that the voters that came out last August are probably highly engaged voters, so we would expect those voters to come out again, but it’s really hard to tell where we’re gonna be,” said Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Eric Corban.

Greene County’s board of elections held similar sentiments. The county saw an 8.9% turnout last August and expected to hit or exceed that mark this time around after already mailing out more absentee ballots on day one than it sent out in the entire August cycle last year.

“We’re prepared for anything and we hope that people do show up to vote,” said Greene County Board of Elections Executive Director Alisha Lampert. “We’re ready to go.”

Issue 1, up for a statewide vote on Aug. 8, proposes raising the vote threshold for a constitutional amendment to pass to 60%, and making it harder for citizen-initiated amendments to get on the ballot.

By the numbers

8% - Statewide voter turnout in the August 2022 election

10-30% - Estimate from local elections boards on potential turnout for this year’s August election

Over 2,000 - Number of absentee ballots mailed out by the Montgomery County Board of Elections on the first day of early voting.

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