By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
A low early voting turnout contributed to Summit County Democrats' lackluster showing in last week's election, county party Chairman Wayne Jones said.
He had predicted 50,000 to 60,000 early voters in Summit County, but just more than 40,000 cast or requested absentee ballots. That was less than half the number who voted early in the 2008 presidential election.
The result: Republicans — for the first time since the 1930s — won more offices within Summit County than Democrats did.
''I think we fell short,'' Jones said. ''No question. It's hard to motivate people who don't want to be motivated. The average guy didn't vote.''
The number of people who cast early ballots in person at the Job Center — a site the Democrats fought for because they said extra space and parking would be needed — also was lower than expected. About 10,800 people voted there,
just more than a quarter of the number who did so in 2008.
Early voting in person did pick up the final week before the election, with more than 500 people casting ballots at the Job Center each day. The peak was the day before the election, when more than 1,500 people voted.
''The last week — that's about what I expected it to be the whole time,'' Jones said.
Republicans, who argued that the Job Center wasn't needed, said the numbers show early voting could have been handled at the board's Grant Street office.
''This was a colossal waste of taxpayer money,'' said Brian Daley, the Republican chairman of the elections board. ''We could easily have accommodated this at the board.''
Daley conceded it would have been difficult to handle 1,500 voters in one day, but the rest of the days would have been manageable.
He estimated the board spent an extra $50,000 to $100,000 because of the Job Center.
Jones disagreed with that conclusion. He said most of the so-called extra expense was for employees who would have been working at the board anyway. Any additional cost was ''incremental,'' he said.
Jones said boards, under state law, must choose one site for in-person absentee voting and don't have the option of offering it at different locations for parts of the 35-day early voting period.
About half of the Summit County voters who cast or requested absentee ballots were Democrats, while about 30 percent were Republicans. The rest were nonpartisan.
While Democrat-affiliated voters outnumber Republicans 3-to-1 in the county, about 18 percent of affiliated Republicans voted early — compared to 15 percent of the affiliated Democrats.
The question now for both parties: What happens with absentee voting in the presidential election in two years?
At the minimum, Daley said, the board must find a more secure place for early voting. Republicans were concerned about security at the Job Center, with a contractor and a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning school next to the voting space.
Jones said Democrats will be watching for any changes that Jon Husted, the Republican secretary of state-elect, and the soon-to-be GOP-controlled legislature make to early voting.
''There are all kinds of things they could do,'' he said. ''We'll see how crazy they get.''
Jones said Democrats were victims of a Republican ''tsunami'' in this election that couldn't be stopped.
''I don't know that we could have done anything more than we did,'' he said. ''People got what they asked for. We'll see how [the Republicans] do.''
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.