Summit County Executive Russ Pry cast his absentee ballot at the Summit County Board of Elections after a wait of about 15 minutes Tuesday, which was the start of in-person early voting in Ohio.
“It looks worse than it is,” Pry said, referring to a roped-off area with a line of voters who were waiting in the parking lot outside the elections board.
Pry and Akron Council President Marco Sommerville rallied Democratic supporters Tuesday afternoon and led them to the board office at 470 Grant St. in Akron to cast their absentee ballots.
“It’s amazing how difficult the Republican Party is making it to vote,” Sommerville told a group of party faithful before they left for the board. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Sommerville was referring to how Summit County won’t use an outside location for in-person early voting, like it did in 2008 and 2010, when the Job Center on Tallmadge Avenue was the site.
Summit County’s Republican board members thought the board’s office was sufficient for early voting and wanted to avoid the potential for electioneering that could accompany a larger off-site early voting location.
Summit’s four-member board deadlocked on whether to use another site for the Nov. 6 election. Secretary of State Jon Husted sided with the Republican members in favor of conducting early voting at the board’s office.
By the end of the day Tuesday, 1,035 people had voted early in Summit County, more than twice the 458 people who cast absentee ballots on the first day of early voting in 2008, the previous presidential election year. About 75 voters had to stand in the rain outside the board Tuesday, waiting their turns.
Kim Zurz, the board’s Democratic deputy director who was helping point people in the right direction in the board’s packed lobby Tuesday afternoon, said the pace of voting hadn’t slowed since the board opened its doors at 8 a.m.
“Welcome to not having the right place for early voting,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can.”
Joe Masich, the board’s Republican director, said he thinks “things are going just fine.”
Local elections boards have been preparing for in-person early voting not knowing what to expect in terms of lines, especially because of how Husted mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. So far, 920,000 voters statewide and nearly 100,000 in the Akron-Canton area have submitted ballot requests.
Charnette Bartee, 22, of Akron, had an easier job early voting in person Tuesday than she did in 2008, when she was six months pregnant and waited for six hours at the Job Center on the day before the election. She voted in about 15 minutes Tuesday.
“It was a lot faster — a lot easier,” she said.
Alfreda Watts, 63, of Akron, voted early for the first time and wondered why she didn’t do it in previous years.
Her friend, Anita Hewett of Copley, said she liked early voting better at the Job Center because there was a place to sit. She takes pictures of her mother and father, who have both passed away, with her when she votes early. She thinks they would have enjoyed the experience.
Tom Hagerman Sr. of Akron, who walks with a cane, said the board was a little confusing because of people who needed to register or update their registrations, as well as those who needed to vote. He said he was in and out in a half-hour and had no complaints.
“It was a little bit crowded, but that’s all,” he said.
Both presidential campaigns are mounting efforts to encourage supporters to vote early, either in person or by mail. They held kickoff events Tuesday and have early voting information on their websites.
Scott Jennings, the manager of Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign in Ohio, said the campaign will promote early voting through its “volunteer ground game,” which includes knocking on doors and making phone calls. The campaign is soliciting volunteers for another “Buckeye Blitz” event Saturday that involves trying to reach out to as many voters as possible in a day.
“For those who have said, ‘I want to do something to help,’ I would say, ‘Now is the time,’ ” Jennings said. “Early voting has started. Now is the time. Voter contact is what matters the most.”
First lady Michelle Obama encouraged supporters to vote early during a rally in Cincinnati that attracted about 6,800 people.
Jessica Kershaw, the spokeswoman for President Barack Obama’s campaign in Ohio, said the campaign will be reminding people about the one-week opportunity to both register or update registrations and vote early that started Tuesday and runs through Oct. 9, which is the registration deadline for the Nov. 6 election. The campaign is asking people when they plan to early vote and sending them postcards, reminding them on that day.
“The early voting process is one part of our get-out-the vote effort,” Kershaw said. “If you support the president, we encourage you to vote early. You never know what will happen on Election Day.”