By Ed Runyan
People watching election returns into the night may have noticed that complete presidential vote totals were available for much of Ohio by 12:45 a.m. but not for all and not for Trumbull County.
Trumbull’s final-but-unofficial results were produced at 12:52 a.m.
During the smaller primary election in the spring, Trumbull County’s final results were completed at 12:30 a.m.
Making matters worse for the Trumbull elections board, whose voters receive their news from Youngs-town and Warren media, Mahoning County provided its complete results at 10 p.m. in the spring and 11:45 p.m. Tuesday.
The two counties are similar in size, so what accounts for the difference in elections results?
Jodi Fiorenzo Dibble, deputy director of the Trumbull elections board, says one specific glitch — a frozen computer that was attempting to upload absentee ballots — pushed back the release of the county’s initial results from her projected time of 7:45 p.m. to 9:02 p.m.
That problem probably also delayed the final results by about 30 minutes, Fiorenzo Dibble said.
But on top of that, the Trumbull elections board attempts to provide results for every paper and electronic ballot possible on election night, and that takes time.
Fiorenzo Dibble and Kelly Pallante, board director, say they notice the fast completion times being turned out by some counties, and they, too, wonder why there is a difference.
“We’re not slow. Nothing’s broken. We stay until it is right, [until] it’s complete,” Fiorenzo Dibble said. “We make sure every ballot is counted” that is supposed to be counted on election night, Pallante said.
Both women said they wonder if all of the other counties are completing all of the requirements spelled out by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
Fiorenzo Dibble noted that she stayed into the night providing results of races that cross county lines to the other counties, as required by the state.
But by 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Trumbull County was still waiting for those results from three other counties.
Trumbull County uses electronic voting machines, and 69,704 ballots made on those were tabulated on Tuesday night without any complication, Pallante said. The paper ballots consume the most time.
Early this year, the Trumbull elections board acquired a high-speed paper ballot scanner at a cost of about $100,000, hoping that would speed up results. It was used the first time during the primary.
Pallante said it’s not clear whether a second paper-ballot scanner would speed up results.
Both women said it would surprise some people to know how many of the paper ballots the board processes have errors and have to be “remade.”
Some voters circle their choice rather than fill in the oval. Some people try to erase their choice or rest their pen on the oval but vote another oval, leaving a dot.
Ballots that come back in the mail sometimes are burned, water stained, torn. In every case like this, the ballot has to be remade, meaning that if the voter’s intent is clear, the worker fills out another ballot that an optical reader can read.
There were 29,582 absentee voters using paper ballots in the election, which is more than double the number (12,144) who used paper ballots in the last presidential election four years ago.
Of the 29,582, only 477 had to be remade.
A check of other elections boards of similar size to Trumbull showed that Mahoning had the earliest completion time of any of the large counties.
Stark County, which has 258,893 registered voters to Trumbull’s 151,505, reported final, complete results at 3:41 a.m.
The final results for some other counties were: Summit, 12:31 a.m.; Lorain, 7:05 a.m.; Montgomery, 12:22 a.m.; Hamilton, 2:27 a.m.; Lake, 1 a.m.; and Cuyahoga, 2:09 a.m.