By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
Despite the controversy and debate leading up to it, in-person absentee voting kicked off Tuesday at the Job Center in Akron, Summit County's early voting site, without any apparent snags.
Turnout was light in the morning with elections board employees outnumbering voters but picked up in the afternoon, after Gov. Ted. Strickland and other Democratic candidates held a rally at the University of Akron and offered a bus ride to the Job Center, 1040 E. Tallmadge Ave.
By late Tuesday afternoon, about 200 voters had cast ballots at the Job Center on its opening day.
At Tuesday's rally, Strickland celebrated the latest polls that show him gaining on John Kasich, his GOP challenger, trailing by as little as 2 percent, rather than by double digits.
''We are on our way up!'' he shouted triumphantly. ''They're going down. They peaked in August. We're going to peak on Nov. 2!''
Strickland said there's a lot of work ahead, but he said, the Democrats have the resources and the momentum to ''get this done.''
More than 100 people attended the event, held in the Student Union, which featured Strickland and Yvette McGee Brown, his running mate; Attorney General Richard Cordray; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles; and local judicial and legislative candidates. They urged the crowd to vote early and spend the time before the Nov. 2 election encouraging others to do the same.
''Happy election day!'' said state Rep. Brian Williams, D-Akron, who urged UA students to take advantage of the right to vote, which he reminded them, they haven't had for that long.
Corey Duncan, 20, a UA student, planned to take the advice and hop on the bus to vote after the event. He has been helping his fraternity,
Iota Phi Theta, register students for early voting.
''We're hoping people take advantage of it,'' he said. ''They can vote by mail. There are no excuses.''
Strickland and other statewide Democratic candidates hosted early voting kickoff events across the state Tuesday, which was the first day for early voting for the general election.
Though early voting is expected to benefit Democrats more, Republicans aren't ignoring it. Rob Portman, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, sent an e-mail Tuesday that urges his supporters to vote early.
''We all know the critical importance of this election,'' he wrote. ''In 2008, the Democrats really took advantage of early voting. I hope you will vote early this year, and get others to do the same.''
Closer to home, Josh Sines, a Republican candidate for the 44th Ohio House District, was among the first early voters at the Job Center. He said he has been encouraging people to vote early as he campaigns door to door and will be among the many candidates expected to pass out literature in the Job Center parking lot.
''It is what it is,'' he said. ''It's going to happen. People like it.''
Frank Comunale, a Democratic candidate for the 27th Ohio Senate District, canceled his plans to have a barbecue Monday evening, stay overnight in the Job Center parking lot and offer a continental breakfast Tuesday morning. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said those activities weren't permissible.
Comunale, a Summit County Council member, instead just went to the Job Center to cast his own early ballot.
Summit is one of only five counties in Ohio with a different site for early voting for the November election. Most other counties, including Stark, Portage, Wayne and Medina, will have early voting at their main board offices.
Summit County early voters cannot cast ballots in person at the elections board's main office on Grant Street; they must go to the Job Center.
Summit County decided to offer early voting at the Job Center because of problems with long waits and a lack of parking at the board's main office during the 2008 primary. The board also had early voting at the Job Center in November 2008, when nearly 93,000 voters cast absentee ballots; more than 41,000 did so at the Job Center.
As of Monday, the Summit board had received 9,000 requests by mail for absentee ballots. Those absentee ballots may be returned by mail or in person to the board office.
Site concerns addressed
Republican members of the Summit elections board fought the use of the Job Center for early voting. They cited concerns about security, especially with a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning school and a construction crew using an adjacent part of the building.
Ron Koehler, the board's Republican deputy director, said most of the concerns have been addressed, through the extension of a tarp between the school and construction site, and the voting area, and a locked-door blocking off the construction area.
''We are comfortable with the level of security,'' he said.
The board put up cones, indicating an area in the Job Center's parking lot for voters, which was another concern Republican board members raised.
The Job Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through the election.
The reported waiting time early Tuesday was 10 to 15 minutes.
''It was easy,'' said Miodrag Cukovich of Copley Township, who voted with his wife, Hope. ''I expected a lot of people.''
A few early voters weren't willing to talk.
One man declined, saying he's working for a campaign. A woman said she didn't want to comment because of all of the ''voter fraud.''
She said she was glad she didn't see anyone trying to intimidate voters.