By David Skolnick
Michael Montalvo of Youngstown carefully looked over his ballot, quietly reading the language on the issues and after about 10 minutes, turned in his paper vote.
Montalvo, a registered Democrat on disability, was the first person in Mahoning County to get an early-vote ballot at the board of elections when it opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday, the first day for early voting in the state.
But he certainly wasn’t the last.
Turnout for those voting early on the first day and requests by people in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties to vote by mail are significantly more than in the 2008 presidential election.
As of Tuesday, about 25,000 voters have sent requests in Mahoning County to vote by mail and about 900 voted at the board of elections’ office, said Joyce Kale-Pesta, its director. At this pace, there likely will be significantly more mail and in-person board voters this year than in 2008, she said.
In 2008, 41,225 people voted by mail and at the board before Election Day. That’s 32 percent of the 128,914 who voted in that general election in Mahoning County.
“If it’s like this for this election, there will be few people at the polls,” Kale-Pesta said. “I didn’t see a lot of enthusiasm for early voting, but I guess I’m wrong. But I’m happy that people are voting.”
About 500 people voted early Tuesday in Trumbull County, quite a bit more than in 2008, said Jodi F. Dibble, that county’s board of elections deputy director.
Also, the board has received 13,648 requests for mail ballots as of Tuesday, she said. In comparison, 7,056 voters in Trumbull requested mail ballots on the first day of early voting in 2008, Dibble said.
In 2008, 24,845 people voted by mail and at the board before Election Day. That’s 23 percent of the 108,441 voters four years ago.
Columbiana County had about 60 people come to the board of elections Tuesday to vote, and has about 5,500 requests for mailed ballots, said Adam Booth, director of its board of elections.
About 7,500 people in 2008 voted by mail or at the board office in 2008, Booth said. That’s about 11 percent of the 70,068 total voters in the county four years ago.
Back in Youngstown, Montalvo voted for the first time in-person at the elections board.
[But Colleen Lowry, regional field director for Obama for America in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, was the first person to submit a finished early-vote ballot.]
Montalvo, who voted for President Barack Obama on Tuesday as he did in 2008, said he did it “to get it out of the way.”
That was a common theme among several people who voted in-person Tuesday at the board of elections in Oakhill Renaissance Place at 345 Oak Hill Ave. on the city’s South Side.
“I definitely wanted to get my vote in early so there would be no issues at the polls,” said Roger Chamberlain of Youngstown, who voted for Obama. “I want to get it out of the way and avoid forgetting to vote. Also, I wanted to get my voice heard as soon as possible.”
Ryland Matthews of Austintown said he’s in the process of moving so he wanted to get his vote [for Obama] cast now.
Some early Democratic voters said they were concerned their votes wouldn’t count if they waited until Election Day.
Mark Munroe, chairman of the board of elections and the county’s Republican Party chairman, said any claims of voter suppression or that it’s more difficult to vote in Ohio during this election than four years ago are “ridiculous.”
Voting is “easier and more accessible than ever before,” he said. “No one is standing by the door with guard dogs blocking people from voting. There are no impediments to voting. Voters have more access to voting. Voters have a five-week period to vote with our office open about 200 hours” for people to cast ballots in person.
Robert Wasko, a Democratic member of the elections board, said he filled out an absentee-ballot request — sent to the homes of every registered voter in the state — and “it was a very simple, easy-to-understand form.”
For traditionalists, you can still go to your polling place on Nov. 6 to vote.
There should be a steady stream of early voters throughout the campaign, Kale-Pesta said.
Next Tuesday, the last day to register for the general election, should be very busy, she said.
All boards of elections in Ohio are open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be open until 9 p.m. next Tuesday. It returns to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19 with no weekend voting. The voting hours at boards are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. between Oct. 22 and Nov. 1 with no weekend voting, and then 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 2.
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering polls be open on Nov. 3 and 4, the Saturday and Sunday before the general election. Republican state officials have appealed that order.
There were numerous press conferences and events on Tuesday in Mahoning and Trumbull counties by political and community groups to draw attention to its being the first day for early voting in Ohio.
In Mahoning County, early voting was slow when it began at 8 a.m. Tuesday, but really picked up late morning and into the early afternoon.
The board has 19 voting booths in its large conference room at the end of a long hallway. While it’s a bit of a walk — particularly with few parking spots close to the board’s office — it keeps voters inside.
Because of the parking issue, the board used its 10-passenger van to bring voters to and from parking lots and the board office, Kale-Pesta said.
Voters should remember, Munroe said, that once inside the elections board office, they are not permitted to wear political button, shirts or other campaign paraphernalia. During the first few hours of early voting, several people wore political buttons and shirts while casting ballots.