One official predicted voter-turnout percentages to be as low as 29 percent.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite competitive races, including Congress, Mahoning Valley elections officials are expecting low voter turnout for Tuesday's primary election.
About 380,000 people are eligible to vote in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, but not even close to half of them are expected to cast ballots.
Norma Williams, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections, said she would be happy if just 29 percent of eligible voters in her county voted Tuesday. John Payne, her counterpart in Columbiana County, is predicting 30 percent to 33 percent voter turnout in his county.
Michael Sciortino, director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, is the most optimistic of the three. He is expecting 42 percent voter turnout in Mahoning.
During the 2001 May primary, turnout was low: 31 percent in Trumbull, 25 percent in Mahoning and 17 percent in Columbiana.
Because this primary has statewide and congressional candidates, elections officials had initially believed turnout would be high this year.
But they changed their opinions based on low numbers of new registered voters and those who vote by absentee ballot, strong indicators of how many people will vote during the primary.
The number of absentee voters in Columbiana is about half of what the county typically gets, Payne said. It is less than half in Trumbull and Mahoning, said Williams and Sciortino.
Payne said he is surprised at the lack of interest by voters in this primary, particularly because of a number of contested races on the ballot, including Democratic and Republican primaries for the new 6th Congressional District.
"The local and congressional races are not exciting people," he said. "I thought we'd have better numbers than we have."
A factor keeping voters away, he said, is there is only one contested statewide primary -- the Democratic nomination for Ohio treasurer. Without state races, interest lessens among voters, Payne said.
Williams said she thought the six-person Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District seat would motivate people to vote, but it hasn't.
The county's turnout for the 1998 primary, the last governor's race, was 32 percent, Williams said. She says there is no chance of achieving that number this year.
Sciortino said he could be dead wrong with his 42-percent turnout prediction, and admits his projections are usually more optimistic than those of Williams and Payne.
"I think the congressional and the precinct committeeman races will pull people out," he said. "Around here, people vote in primaries because a lot of elections are decided in the primary. But the other side is there is apathy because people are just sick of [problems with local political corruption] and we could end up being lower than Columbiana and Trumbull."