The high number of absentee ballots may cause problems on election night, some officials fear.
VINDICATOR STAFF/WIRE REPORT
Voters in the Mahoning Valley are taking a liking to the state's new no-fault absentee voting law.
Rokey Suleman, deputy director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections, said he expects the number of absentee ballots cast to be much higher this election than in the past.
One way to compare numbers, Suleman said, is that his office received about the same number of requests for absentee ballots during the two-week period between Oct. 3 and 13 this year as the number who voted absentee the whole five-week period of the gubernatorial elections of 2002 and 1998.
With the state's new absentee balloting procedure, any Ohio voter can cast a ballot at his or her board of election office until Nov. 6, the day before the election. Absentee balloting can begin 35 days before the election.
Before this year, voters were allowed to vote absentee only under certain circumstances, such as being older than 62.
The Mahoning County Board of Elections received requests to vote absentee from about 9,500 people as of Monday, said its director Thomas McCabe, its director.
That is already more than the 8,758 people who voted absentee in 2002, the last gubernatorial year. It's far short of the 17,537 absentee voters in 2004, however, but that isn't a fair comparison, McCabe said, because it was a presidential year.
There is more interest in next month's statewide election compared to 2002, McCabe said, but the primary reason for more absentee voters is the new no-fault law.
"The political parties are taking advantage of the new rule," he said. "We're not seeing new voters, but we're seeing those who used to vote at polling places now using absentee ballots."
Columbiana County Board of Elections reported "heavier-than-normal" interest in absentee ballots this year.
The board has not counted the number of requests for the upcoming election. About 1,250 people voted by absentee ballot in November 2005.
The board does not have absentee ballots to give voters, however. The board hopes the ballots will arrive this week.
Delays caused by rulings in the Ohio Secretary of State's office over which statewide issues will appear on the ballot resulted in Dayton Legal Blank, which is printing the county ballots, to fall behind schedule.
Some people who want to vote by absentee ballot said they would return to the board to vote. Others have requested the board mail them the ballot when it arrives, Columbiana elections officials said.
Across Ohio, elections officials are saying the change might lighten the load at the polls, but the expected high number of absentee ballots will stress elections boards in another way.
The boards, already busy adapting to electronic voting and a new identification requirement, say they will be extra busy trying to finish counting the absentees by 7:30 p.m. election night, as required by law.
Any delays in counting absentee ballots could be crucial in close races, including the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Republican Mike DeWine and Democratic U.S. Rep Sherrod Brown. Holdups in bellwether Ohio possibly could delay the nation's knowing which political party controls the Legislature in Washington, D.C.
Election problem-prone Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous county, which includes Cleveland, says it might not be able to finish tabulating the 120,000 to 180,000 absentee ballots it expects by 7:30 election night because its 50 Diebold Inc. counting machines can scan only 200 pages an hour.
Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican who is running for governor, has not yet decided whether to allow Cuyahoga and other counties to get a head start on processing the ballots, spokesman James Lee said Monday.