Voting begins today in Ohio

By David Skolnick

Valley elections boards expect record absentee voting numbers.

YOUNGSTOWN — Those wanting to cast a ballot in the election don’t have to wait until Nov. 4.

They can start today thanks to the state’s early-voting law.

Elections officials in Mahoning and Trumbull say they’re ready.

Though the Columbiana County Board of Elections is obligated under state law to provide ballots today to those who want to vote — and will do so — officials there are asking people to wait until the end of the week.

The ballots haven’t arrived at the elections board from its vendor, Dayton Legal Blank, said Lois Gall, the county’s deputy elections director. Board employees can print a ballot from its voting machines for those who don’t want to wait, she said.

But that could take some time, particularly if a lot of people want to vote early, Gall said.

Dayton Legal Blank probably won’t have the ballots to Columbiana County until Thursday or Friday, she said.

“We have no idea how many to expect,” Gall said of early voters going to the board today. “We’d prefer they wait a few days.”

At least a few hundred are expected to vote today in Mahoning and Trumbull, election board officials there say.

This is the first presidential election since Ohio went to no-fault early voting two years ago.

The elections boards in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana are expecting a record number of people to take advantage of early voting through the mail or at the elections board.

Mahoning County received more than 20,000 absentee ballot requests as of Monday and expects 40,000 to 50,000 people to vote absentee in this election.

The record was 18,000 in 2004, said Thomas McCabe, Mahoning’s elections board director.

“This will be the busiest election by far,” he said. “But the office is prepared.”

Trumbull County received about 7,000 absentee ballot requests by Monday, and Kelly Pallante, its elections board director, expects that number to hit 30,000.

The county’s absentee ballot record of about 12,000 was in 2004, she said.

A record is also expected in Columbiana County, Gall said.

There were 5,500 absentee votes cast in 2004. Gall said she expects about 10,000 for this presidential election with about 2,000 to 3,000 already requesting absentee ballots.

Election boards in Ohio are able to honor requests to mail absentee ballots by noon Nov. 1, the Saturday before Election Day. Voters can go to the election board locations to cast ballots until 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4, when the polls close.

Through next Monday at 9 p.m., county election boards will also be registering voters.

That could lead to longer lines because of the registration and voting overlap.

To handle the anticipated increased traffic at the elections board offices, Mahoning and Trumbull are extending weekday hours and will be open on weekends beginning next Tuesday.

Columbiana’s election board hasn’t considered extending hours, Gall said.

On Monday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that new voters can register and then cast a ballot the same day. The court agreed with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who said her interpretation of state law is voters don’t need to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot.

Republicans had disputed Brunner’s interpretation.

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