Nearly 200,000 voters in the Akron-Canton area voted before Election Day in November 2008.
Close to half that number have already requested an absentee ballot for the Nov. 6 election.
And local elections boards have been preparing in case the other half decide to cast their votes in person when the early voting period for Ohio officially starts Tuesday.
Local boards have installed extra security cameras in areas where early voting will be done, arranged for more parking, added machines, and set up larger areas for the potential swell of voters who opt to vote at elections boards rather than at the polls.
“It’s called ‘controlled chaos,’ ” said Jeanette Mullane, deputy director of the Stark County elections board.
Elections officials are unsure how many people will opt to in-person early vote this year because of how Secretary of State Jon Husted sent absentee applications to all registered voters, allowing them to easily request ballots by mail. Husted soon will send another application to anyone who has registered since his first mailer went out. Officials also don’t know whether the degree of interest in the election will be as high as it was in 2008.
“We don’t know what to anticipate,” said Faith Lyon, director of the Portage County board. “We’re going off of ‘08. We haven’t had nearly the call volume and inquiries regarding early voting. It’s hard to say until when you start what to expect.”
Elections officials are readying for a potential influx of in-person early voters who may or may not show up at boards during the last month before the election. And they are trying to provide them with as much information as they can to make sure their ballots are properly completed and counted in the final vote tally.
In-person early voters in Summit County will vote at the elections board, just as they will in the four other counties in the Akron-Canton area and in the vast majority of counties across Ohio.
Summit had an off-site location for in-person early voting in the November 2008 and November 2010 elections, but the board deadlocked this year on whether to have an outside location. Husted sided with his fellow Republicans on the board in favor of having early voting at the board.
Democrats proposed having another site because of the long lines and parking problems the board had in the 2008 primary when in-person early voting was held at the board’s Grant Street office.
The board has taken steps to prepare for early voting at its office this year, including installing additional security cameras in areas where voting may be done if the crowds get large enough. The board also secured parking in adjacent lots, bringing the total number of spots available to 80, said Joe Masich, the board’s director.
The board plans to hire two deputies to handle traffic flow and may bring on more, depending on the number of voters.
“We want to ensure that the secretary of state’s directive and laws are followed in terms of interference with voters,” he said. “How many deputies will be fluid, depending on the crowd.”
Other elections boards also have been getting ready to welcome early voters to their offices.
Wayne County has added two more voting machines in its absentee area as it had in 2008, bringing it to 10 machines.
“We just don’t have room for any more than 10,” said Nancy Hamilton, the board’s director.
Wayne, Medina, Portage and Stark counties have electronic voting machines, while Summit uses an optical-scan system in which voters fill out paper ballots that are then scanned into a machine. Early voters in counties with electronic machines use the machines for voting, while those in optical-scan counties have paper ballots.
Portage County also has increased its number of machines for early voters to seven, with the ability to go up a few more if needed. The board had six in 2008.
“It’s a space issue,” Lyon said. “We don’t want voters to feel others can see their ballots.”
The Medina County board, which shares a building with the health department, will have early voting for the first two weeks in its voting room and then move to a larger room down the hall for the second two weeks, with enough space for twice the machines.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to prepare and make the most room available,” said Carol Lawler, the board’s director.
The Walmart across from the Medina board has agreed to allow board employees to park in its parking lot to free up more spots in the joint board/health department lot.
The Stark County board will again put up plastic chains for voters in line like they’re “going to a coaster at Cedar Point,” Mulane said.
“Our office really isn’t set up for long lines,” she said. “We do the best we can with what we have.”
Tips for voters
Nearly 1,500 voters in Summit County had their absentee ballots thrown out because of problems with the ballots in 2008.
That amounted to about 1.6 percent of the 88,940 early voters.
The two biggest reasons ballots weren’t counted were that ballots were outside of the identification envelopes (516) and that ballots were switched (452), such as a husband’s ballot being put in a wife’s identification envelope. Other problems included no identification, date of birth or signature; being mailed late; and having the stubs removed. (Stubs must be kept on ballots.)
Local elections officials offer the following tips to voters to make sure they properly fill out their ballots:
• Fill out the identification envelope correctly and completely and sign the envelope. If voting by mail, seal the envelope and put it in the mail-in envelope.
• Follow the instructions correctly that come with the absentee packet.
• Make sure the signature provided matches the signature on file with the board. Voters whose signatures have changed may fill out a Form 260 with an elections board to update their signature.
• Use a pen to fill out the ballot.
• If voting in person, read up on the candidates and issues before going to the board. (State Issue 2, in particular, is lengthy.)
• Use the proper postage, which is $1.30, according to the post office.
• Those with questions can talk to board staff, if voting in person, or call their local board. (Board contact information is included in a list with this story.)
“We are more than happy to walk them through that process,” Lyon said.