Democratic Party ballots cast exceeded GOP in Montgomery County

More people voted Democratic Party ballots in Montgomery County’s primary election this year than there are registered Democrats in the county, according to Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

“Party affiliations changed,” Kelly said, adding that those who switched would have been Republicans or unaffiliated with a party.

Montgomery County has 29,750 registered Democrats, but she said 39,215 people cast Democratic Party ballots in the April 28 primary election.

That made Democratic Party ballots cast nearly 132 percent of registered Democrats. She said Republican Party ballots were cast by 28,604 voters, or 79.7 percent of the 35,872 registered Republicans, Kelly said.

Ohio voters declare their party affiliation by the partisan ballot they choose in a primary election. Those who do not want to declare an affiliation pick a non-partisan ballot so they can vote on tax issues and other non-partisan matters. This year 1,924 non-partisan ballots were cast, which is 0.65 percent of the 294,520 registered voters in the county who have no party affiliation.

MORE: Complete election results

The total number of people who voted in the county in this year’s primary was 69,743 and voter turnout was 19.37 percent of the county’s 360,142 registered voters, Kelly said.

By comparison voter turnout for the presidential primary of 2016 was 41.8 percent. In 2012, the primary turnout was 21.2 percent and in 2008 it was 48.6 percent, she said.

This year’s presidential primary had multiple Democrats on the ballot, but former Vice President Joe Biden was the only one with an active campaign by the time the election was held. President Donald Trump was the only presidential candidate on the Republican ballot.

The board of elections on Monday certified the results of the election, which was held by mail after the state canceled the March 17 in-person voting due to coronavirus. All boards must complete certification of results by May 19.

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“What an election. It was just an unbelievable task that we were asked to do, but we did it,” Kelly said before the vote. “The legislature asked a lot of boards of election without thinking it through.”

Before voting to certify results the board reviewed absentee and provisional ballots that the paper ballot scanner had rejected due to markings made in pencil, damage to the ballot, markings in margins or other issues. Once they approved the valid ballots board staff remade those ballots to match the original ballot, with a both a Republican and Democrat involved in the process. They then ran the ballots through the scanner to complete the tallying process.

Ohio’s primary election was done entirely by mail except for a limited number of people who could vote in person at the board offices on Election Day. Those allowed to vote in person included people who had requested but not received ballots, homeless people and some disabled people.

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Kelly and Deputy Director Steve Harsman praised the responsiveness of the U.S. Postal Service as an avalanche of ballots came through the mail. At one point on the Saturday before the election the board had people ready to process ballots but only a few arrived, said Kelly.

She called the post office official in charge of this area and learned that a worker who was normally working was off. The official intervened and thousands of pieces of mail arrived that day to be processed, Kelly said.

State law allows people to request absentee ballots until noon on the Saturday before the election, but she said that often does not leave enough time for the request to be received and a ballot mailed out before the election.

Board Chairperson Rhine McLin said that and other issues that came up as a result of the unprecedented absentee-only election need to be compiled and taken to state legislators to fix before the November election. Among those issues: the state legislature chose to not allow boards to automatically send ballots to all registered voters; difficulty getting word out to people about how to get ballots in time; and communicating with the homeless and others about their options.

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“You did a yeoman’s job, but for the first time I’ve sat on this board….I really felt inadequate as overseeing our voter’s protection, not by our fault but by other outside forces,” McLin said.

County elections officials and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose wanted the mail-in election to be moved to June 2 but the state legislature refused to adopt that recommendation and would only let LaRose send a notification card to voters, rather than absentee ballots.

Harsman and Kelly are putting together a list and working with state and county elections officials to come up with proposals to make vote-by-mail go more smoothly.

Board member Kay Wick also said the state needs to reconsider a long-standing law that limits the board in determining voter intent on ballots that are rejected by the ballot counting machine. The law says the board can only remake a ballot that the voter has improperly marked if the voter is uniform in the mistake throughout. One example of a ballot that could be counted would be a person who circled the bubbles on the ballot in every race, rather than filling them, Kelly said.

One ballot the board discussed Monday involved the person’s vote in one race where the voter had whited out their vote for one candidate and marked another. In previous year’s the board would consider whether the voter’s intent was clear and likely count that vote. But it was not counted because the law doesn’t allow the board to consider voter intent in an individual race, according to board attorneys.

Last fall, after getting questions about the board’s long-standing practice of considering voter intent on individual votes on a ballot, the board got a legal opinion that state law prohibited such race-by-race consideration of voter intent when there were problems with how ballots were marked, Kelly said.

“Our legal interpretation of the law changed,” Kelly said. “To review each single ballot for what the board thinks is the intent is not the law.

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Ballots came with instructions that if voters made a mistake on the ballot they needed to request another, but McLin noted that the state’s short timeline didn’t give people a lot of leeway to get the new ballot in time.

People who had requested a ballot but not gotten it in time were allowed to vote in person at the Board of Elections. Harsman said 103 registered voters who had not requested ballots but showed up to vote on a provisional ballot were told that if they voted their votes would not be counted.

Normally provisional ballots can be cast in person on Election Day by registered voters for a variety of reasons, including because they have moved and had not changed their address or because of questions about eligibility that must be resolved after the election. But LaRose advised boards that the legislation moving the election to April 28 prohibited in-person voting by provisional voters who had not requested absentee ballots.

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