Record turnout for early voting

A busy, lawsuit-filled early voting period ended Monday, with state election officials estimating that Ohio set a record for pre-Election Day turnout.

More than 87 percent of the 1.3 million absentee ballots mailed to Ohio voters during the absentee voting period have been returned, and that surpasses the absentee voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said Monday.

His office released the final round of absentee voting data for Ohio ahead of today’s presidential election. The data was based on an informal survey of Ohio’s 88 boards of elections.

As of Monday, nearly 1.8 million Ohioans had already cast their ballots. Of the more than 1.3 million absentee ballots mailed to voters during the absentee voting period, more than 1.1 million have been returned — that’s a rate of 87.1 percent.

Additionally, more than 592,000 voters cast their ballots in person at their board of elections or designated vote center, Husted said.

“Clearly our efforts to make absentee voting more accessible for all Ohio voters have worked,” he said in information released to news media late Monday night. “More voters have cast absentee ballots in this election than in any other election since no-fault absentee voting began in 2006,” Husted said.

Even though Monday was the deadline to get ballots postmarked, he continued to encourage voters who have requested and received absentee ballots to get them returned.

Voters may return their ballots in person to their board of elections up until the close of polls on Election Day, which this year in Nov. 6. If a voter has requested an absentee ballot and decides instead to vote in person, they will be required to vote provisionally.

Miami Valley ballots

As far as Miami Valley residents, more than 225,000 of them cast absentee ballots in person or by mail.  Those totals will go even higher due to any mailed ballots that were postmarked by Monday but have not yet arrived at a Board of Elections office.

Voters continued to pour into county Boards of Election Saturday through Monday, thanks to an October court ruling that said Ohioans had the right to vote on the final three days before Election Day — the only weekend voting of this election cycle.

More than 5,600 Montgomery County residents voted in person from Saturday through Monday. That was less than the 7,834 who voted on those three days in 2008, likely driven by the 12 fewer hours county residents had to vote than in 2008, the result of a directive from Husted.

But those 5,600 voters pushed Montgomery County’s five-week in-person absentee vote total past 32,000 counting provisional ballots — almost 4,000 more than in 2008.

Election Day voting

Ohio election officials hope the high early voting turnout will help prevent long lines on Tuesday. After widespread lines and delays in 2004, the state approved no-fault early voting, and Ohio had relatively few Election Day voting problems in 2008.

McClellan said with early voting turnout surpassing 2008, he doesn’t anticipate line problems Tuesday and “expects things to run smoothly.” Polling locations will be open today from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, agreed that the county is prepared for Tuesday, but added that voters should expect the usual crowds during high-volume times. That’s especially true because the county consolidated polling locations in 2009, going from 356 to 176.

“If people can avoid before work, lunchtime and after work times, they’re going to be better off,” Harsman said. “If their schedule requires them to vote during those times, just expect a little bit of a delay. It’s a volume thing.”

Harsman said Montgomery County trains polling location supervisors to offer paper ballots to voters who want them if the lines are approaching 20 minutes.

Despite the increase in early voting and the spotlight this year over how and when it can be done, the bulk of the vote still will occur today. In 2008, about 70 percent of all Ohio ballots were cast on Election Day.

Ellis Jacobs, an attorney with the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, said any voters who are unsure where to vote Tuesday should call their Board of Elections or visit the website of the BOE or Secretary of State.

“Many polling locations in Montgomery County have changed (since 2008),” Jacobs said. “It’s really important, because if you vote at the wrong location, your vote will not be counted.”

Only ballots cast at the wrong physical location are disqualified. People who go the right building — but for some reason vote in the wrong precinct within that building — will still have their votes counted.

Jacobs also said unused mail ballots are a concern. Any voter who requested an absentee ballot by mail, decided not to use it, and then tries to vote on Election Day, will have to vote by provisional ballot. Their only other option is to fill out the absentee ballot and return it to their county Board of Elections office before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Jacobs is part of a voting rights group that will have three dozen volunteers checking Montgomery County precincts for voting problems. He said voters with concerns Tuesday can call 1-866-ourvote to get help.

McClellan said any Ohioan having trouble voting should first ask questions of the poll workers on site. But he added that voters should feel free to call their county Board of Elections directly, or contact the Secretary of State’s office if needed.

Delays possible

Husted said last week that it’s possible some races might be too close to call Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, and provisional ballots could play a role. Neither provisional ballots — ballots set aside because a voter moved or some other problem was detected — nor absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but come in after the election can be counted for 10 days. Absentees that come in late will be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive by Nov. 16.

In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain in Ohio’s presidential race by 262,224 votes, and Ohio had about 200,000 provisional ballots. If that provisional vote total rises and the margin in the presidential race shrinks, it’s possible Ohio would have to wait until mid- to late-November to find out who won the state, and potentially the presidency.

State law requires a recount if candidates are closer than one-fourth of 1 percentage point in statewide races and one-half of 1 percentage point in other races. But such a recount couldn’t even begin until the canvass of ballots is completed, sometime between Nov. 17 and Nov. 27.

For those who think razor-thin margins never happen, Harsman likes to point out last year’s tax levy for the Miami Valley Career Technology Center, where 113,000 people voted, and the final margin was one vote — 56,567 to 56,566.

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