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Elections board denies request

Friday, October 3, 2008

By John W. Goodwin Jr.

The Mahoning County director said the office will extend operating hours, but not until Tuesday.

YOUNGSTOWN — Members of a group dedicated to early registration and voting in Ohio want to see the Mahoning County Board of Elections open this weekend for registration and voting, but local elections officials say the board is already going above and beyond to serve the public.

Fran Mercer, Jane Toy-Thomason and Andree Dean — mother of Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, have been in Youngstown for three days trying to get voters registered and to the polls before Nov. 4. The women are working as part of independent organization Vote Today Ohio.

According to Dean, the three women were upset over the number of potential voters who did not cast a ballot in 2004. She said the 2004 election is what forced members of the group into action.

The trio has spent time at various stores in the area informing residents about the early voting rules in Ohio.

Mercer said Vote Today Ohio started about a month ago with the state allowing residents to register and vote early. She said members of the group met in Columbus at that time, then fanned out across the state trying to get potential voters to the polls.

“What is so exciting about Ohio is this new voting paradigm where you don’t have to wait in line to vote. Some people did not get a chance to vote in the last election. It will be interesting to see how many more people, percentage-wise, get the opportunity to vote,” she said. “Basically we have been taking bus loads of people from the Rescue Mission, university, food bank and bus station to the board of elections on Market Street and back.”

The Vote Today Ohio organization, in conjunction with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative on Wood Street, will have shuttles transporting early voters to the board of elections every hour beginning at 10:55 a.m. and ending at 3:55 p.m. today and Monday. The shuttle will be located at the University Plaza across from Sweeney Hall at Youngstown State University.

Vote Today Ohio and Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative would like to see the Mahoning County Board of Elections extend its hours this weekend to allow residents to register and vote. Damareo Cooper of the collaborative said extending the hours this weekend would bring in more potential voters.

“Most people are off work on weekends and that is when they have extra time. Being able to come out when you have that extra time would have definitely increased voter participation, and that is our goal,” he said.

Tom McCabe, Mahoning County Board of Elections director, said the board has elected to extend its hours for the entire month preceding the election — something that is not required. This weekend, he said, employees at the board offices will have to catch up on a workload that has been very heavy.

According to McCabe, hours at the board beginning Tuesday will be extended to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday up until election day. The office will also be open weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays beginning next weekend.

“This is above and beyond what we do during any normal election. This is the first election this board has ever extended its hours,” he said. “We have gone above and beyond what is necessary.”

McCabe said his office is already about $600,000 over budget for the year because of an increased workload, additional staff and a very busy primary. He said it is important to note that the office is not required to extend its hours, but he felt it would be good to offer the additional time to voters.

“You try to do something good and they still complain,” he said. “These people are crazy and they are kicking a gift horse in the mouth.”

Toy-Thomason said the group, which she said is bipartisan, has had success transporting people to the board of elections offices, but the greater success has been in informing the public about the availability of early voting.