More voters in the Akron-Canton area cast absentee ballots in 2008 than have done so this year.
That could change in the final days before Tuesday’s election.
Ohioans can still early vote in person through Monday at elections boards, have until Monday to postmark mail-in absentee ballots and can drop off ballots at elections boards until the close of polls on Election Day.
As of the middle of this week, slightly more than 145,000 local voters had returned absentee ballots by mail or had voted in person at elections boards. Another 47,000 had requested ballots but hadn’t returned them. Nearly 200,000 local residents voted early four years ago.
Statewide, more than 1.2 million people had cast absentee ballots by midweek, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“As we near Election Day, the pace of early voting is picking up,” Husted said in a news release.
For the first time, Husted sent absentee applications to all registered voters, a move local elections officials say has driven up the number of mail-in absentee ballots.
The presidential campaigns have been pushing for early voting in the Akron area and across Ohio, including Tenacious D (Jack Black and Kyle Glass) encouraging Kent State students to early vote for President Barack Obama’s campaign Friday.
Lines getting longer
Local elections officials, who weren’t sure what to expect with in-person early voting, especially because of Husted’s mailing, say the lines have been lengthening in the past week as the election draws closer.
“There have been lines, but even with the weather, people continue to come in to vote early,” said Carol Lawler, director of the Medina County Board of Elections.
Summit County has been handling 1,000 to 1,500 in-person early voters each day. Some voters have waited an hour or longer to vote, said Joe Masich, the board’s director.
“We’ve never had anyone waiting on a voting stall, they are waiting on a ballot,” Masich said. “We have a sufficient number of stalls.”
Masich said any voters who are in line at the close of the early voting period each day are permitted to vote.
Absentee ballots count
Some people think absentee ballots are counted only if an election is close, but the opposite is true. Absentee ballots are counted first.
Elections boards are permitted to open and scan ballots into tabulation machines 10 days before the election, though the results may not be tabulated until the polls close at 7:30 on election night. Because the early ballots have already been scanned in, they are the first results elections boards report, shortly after the close of the polls.
At the Summit board, five bipartisan teams of employees have been scanning ballots since last Saturday. After the ballots are scanned, they are stored in the board’s vault, which is kept locked, with limited employee access, Masich said.
Absentee ballots — as well as provisional ballots cast on Election Day — are thrown out only if boards find a deficiency with them.
“Eligible ballots — whether cast by absentee walk-in, absentee mail-in, overseas, provisional ballot or on Election Day — are counted in the official count of our board,” Masich said.
Elections boards determine the unofficial count on Election Day, then add absentee ballots received after Election Day but postmarked by the day before the election, and add provisional ballots that are in proper form to produce the official vote count calculated after the election.
Tips for proper ballot
Voters need to be sure they properly fill out their absentee ballots so they are counted, local elections officials say.
Jeanette Mullane, deputy director of the Stark County elections board, said voters who have requested a ballot by mail need to be sure they fill out the ballot and return it to the board with the proper postage. (The postage is $1.30, and ballots must be postmarked by Monday.)
Before sending in ballots, voters need to make sure their names, identification and signatures are on the identification envelopes and that ballots are in the envelopes, Mullane said.
Elections boards are trying to send ballots out on the same day they get requests. Voters, however, who haven’t received their absentee ballots by Election Day may go to their polling places, where they will be required to vote provisional ballots. (The poll books will indicate they had requested absentee ballots.)
“A paper ballot you mail will be counted on election night,” Mullane said.
“A provisional one you get at the polls will be added into the official count.”