If you live in Summit County, you may have a new congressional district, legislative district, precinct and polling location when you vote on Tuesday.
On top of this, you may be voting for candidates you aren’t familiar with.
All of these changes could add up to one big problem on Election Day: confusion.
“The potential to create confusion is substantial,” said John Green, executive director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “If the presidential race is close, the confusion could have an impact on the outcome. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”
The latest polls show the race too close to call in Ohio.
Local groups have been trying to do their part to lessen voter confusion by encouraging people to vote early and hosting events like candidates’ nights. A local group of clergy traveled to Columbus to meet with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to express their concerns and started a program called “Souls to the Polls” that has provided voters rides to the Summit County elections board to vote early. The League of Women Voters of the Akron Area (LWVAA) produced a voter guide that is available on its website and distributed 20,000 paper copies to locations around Summit County, such as libraries.
“We are still digesting all of these changes,” said Tina Merlitti, president of the local League of Women Voters and a former Akron councilwoman. “If we’re confused, I can’t imagine how the average voter feels.”
Because of the potential for confusion, elections officials in Summit and surrounding counties urge voters to take steps to prepare themselves before they go to the polls.
“I would encourage people to be prepared — to do a little prior planning,” said Joe Masich, director of the Summit County elections board. “It will make their experience easier and make it easier on us and the poll workers.”
How to prepare
With this in mind, here are suggestions for how voters can get ready for Tuesday.
1. Check your precinct and polling location. This doesn’t just apply to Summit County, because changes also have been made in other local counties.
Voters can type in their names on local elections board websites and the Ohio secretary of state’s website — www.OhioSecretaryofState.gov — to check their polling locations. They also can call elections boards to ask them for this information.
In Summit County, where the elections board significantly reduced precincts and polling locations between the primary and general election to save money, signs will be posted at polling places that have been closed, suggesting that people call the elections board to find their new locations. Greeters at polling locations with two or more precincts will help direct voters to the right spot.
The Summit board sent out orange cards to voters, informing them of their new precincts and polling locations. Masich suggested that voters bring these cards with them, which will help poll workers figure out where they need to vote. (These cards, however, won’t serve as official identification required for voting.)
Voters who have moved and didn’t update their registrations before the deadline must vote at their new polling locations — not the old ones — and are required to vote provisional ballots.
2. Bring proper identification.
This could be a current and valid photo identification; military identification; or a copy of a current (within the last 12 months) utility bill (including cell phone bill), bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the voter’s name and current address, according to the secretary of state’s website.
Voters who do not provide the required identification will be required to vote a provisional ballot and must present identification to the elections board within 10 days of the election.
3. Look into who and what you’re voting on.
The secretary of state’s website has maps that show the new congressional and legislative boundaries. The site also has explanations on the two statewide issues, 1 and 2. Issue 2, in particular, is lengthy and complicated.
“If people have the chance to read through it and know what it’s about, that will make the time spent go a lot quicker,” said Nancy Hamilton, director of the Wayne County elections board.
The Akron league’s website, www.lwvaa.org, has a voter guide with information on local congressional, state legislative, county and judicial candidates, as well as the statewide and local issues.
Local elections board websites allow a voter to put in his or her name and pull up a sample ballot.
4. Make it to the polls on time, though you may want to avoid the busiest periods.
The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Anyone in line when the polls close will be permitted to vote.
Masich said the busiest times generally are before and after work and during the lunch hour.
5. When in doubt, ask.
The local elections boards will have extra staff on hand on Election Day to answer phone calls from voters.