With local counties leading the way, Ohio is on track to set a midterm election record for early voting. And while the data show partisans behind the enthusiasm, it won't be until after the polls close Tuesday that Ohio can make sense of the surge.
The first ballot was handed out at 1 p.m. Sunday, the 26th day of early voting. Portage County Board of Elections Director Faith Lyon didn’t need a report in front of her to know which way the vote tally is headed. “Up,” she said as the long line before her moved steadily toward the ballot box behind her. “The whole state is trending up.”
Requests for absentee ballots are up nearly 60 percent in Portage and Summit counties, according to election officials and reports.
At his last count, Secretary of State Jon Husted reported a 17 percent uptick in absentee ballots requested statewide compared to 2014, the last time Ohioans elected a governor and other top officials.
This year, there’s no incumbent in any of the statewide races. Add a U.S. Senate race, a constitutional amendment reforming drug sentencing and congressional races shaping up to be a referendum on President Donald Trump, and the enthusiasm to vote is palpable.
“We’re just really excited about voting,” said Alice Leach, a 22-year-old graphic design major at Kent State.
“Especially for young people,” commented her friend, Emily Palombo, another KSU student who grew up in Pittsburgh but cast an early ballot Sunday to avoid missing class Tuesday. “I feel that young people don’t have a voice.”
The women voted for Issue 1 and Democrats, to check the president of the United States and “the hateful people” he has “emboldened.”
Who's voting early
A second weekend of get-out-the-vote efforts unfolded in Akron on Sunday with a “Souls to the Polls” campaign driving minorities from churches to the ballot box. Moves like this have pushed early voting in Summit County up nearly 60 percent so far, dwarfing early turnout in Cuyahoga County where voters have already crushed the 2014 absentee ballot total by 12 percent.
What’s more, the uptick in early voting appears to be driven by partisans who now outnumber unaffiliated voters. Political affiliation is determined by which party’s ballot a voter pulled in the most recent primary. Comparing early vote counts in 2014 and 2018 through the Saturday before Election Day, participation is up 120 percent for Republicans and 118 percent for Democrats in Summit County — throwing into question the size of the “blue wave” liberals say will capsize midterm elections usually won by conservatives, especially in rural areas and particularly on the last day of voting. Ohio, a purple state in presidential election years, has elected a Democrat for governor only once in the last 30 years.
But Democrats cast 3.5 times more votes than Republicans on the last two days of early voting in 2014, meaning the election is likely too close to call by studying early voters’ political affiliation.
The level of voting, though, is undisputable. Summit County cast about 42,000 early votes in 2010 and again in 2014. Already this year, 65,287 absentee ballots are in. Silver Lake, Reminderville, Twinsburg Township, Northfield, Akron, Fairlawn, Copley, Bath and Stow are all up more than 60 percent. Mogadore, Barberton and Coventry have registered the lowest increases, though still up more than 20 percent from 2014.
Ohio first allowed early voting, or absentee balloting, even if voters had no excuse for missing Election Day in 2006. The convenience has steadily gained traction.
What voters say
“It seemed very well-organized,” Karla Dillon said of workers at the Portage County Board of Elections. “They were real speedy,” her husband, Jason, added.
The couple brought their two daughters along. He’ll be away for work on Tuesday and she thought a family day out on Sunday would be easier than racing to vote Tuesday morning on the way to drop off the girls at school.
The civics lesson landed with Kelsey, their 10-year-old daughter who can’t wait to vote. “I think it’s a good idea because everybody gets a choice on who’s doing what,” the little girl said. “It maters that everybody has a good life and everything is right.”
Only a handful of the two dozen people interviewed at the early voting center in Ravenna volunteered their personal politics. And, of the few opinionated voters, only liberals made their intentions clear.
“The president,” a middle-aged woman from Diamond said of her need to elect Democrats to check Trump.
“I think a lot of hate is [coming from] people who aren’t aware. They see something different and they’re afraid,” said the woman’s daughter, a clinical health counseling major who’s unnerved by political rhetoric of late.
Tom Collins, who was named chair of the progressive Sierra Club last week, dropped off his wife to vote then walked out to his vehicle to pass the time on his smartphone. He cast a ballot weeks ago on the first day of early voting, he said, even posing for a picture with state Rep. Kathleen Clyde who happened to be there casting a ballot in her secretary of state bid against state Sen. Frank LaRose. “To me, she bridges any divide in politics as a hometown girl,” said Collins, a neighbor of Clyde’s in Garrettsville.
Jessica Loftin voted early with her mother, Evelyn, and best fried, Justine Ridgell. In their mid-20s, the young women say they’ve never missed an election, always voting on Sunday then grabbing lunch.
A few regular voters from Rootstown turned out to support a new schools levy. “It’s important for the community,” said Donald Kishton. “I think people are short-sighted if they don’t see the value it brings.”
“I think people see me and say, ‘Oh, there’s an old white guy, he must vote Republican,’ ” said Ken Pospichel, a longtime Democrat who joined his wife to vote early. With three children out of school with families of their own, the grandparents supported the Rootstown school levy, one of many issues on the ballot this Tuesday.
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.