By David Skolnick
About 1,000 Democrats in Mahoning County so far have switched their party affiliation to Republican with election officials saying several did it to vote for Donald Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner.
“We are seeing something this election cycle I’ve never seen before to this degree,” said board Chairman Mark Munroe, who’s also the county Republican chairman. “Every day I take phone calls or get voice messages from people saying they’ve been Democrats all their life and they’ve had it. They want to vote for Donald Trump. I’m surprised at the volume of inquiries we’re getting. It’s remarkable.”
A number of Democrats taking a Republican ballot when voting early at the board “say they want to vote for Trump,” said Joyce Kale-Pesta, Mahoning County Board of Elections director.
About 7,000 Mahoning County voters have cast early votes. Early voting started Feb. 17 and ends March 14, the day before the primary.
Of those 7,000, about 14 percent were Democrats who voted Republican, Kale-Pesta said. That’s about 1,000 so far.
The percentage of Democrats switching parties will grow even more, said board Vice Chairman David Betras, who also is the county Democratic chairman.
And it doesn’t concern Betras.
“I knew Donald Trump’s message would resonate with blue-collar Democrats,” he said. “But once they learn about his record – besides him being anti-trade – they will change their minds in the general election. I assure you that come the general election, voters will vote our way once we tell the story of Donald Trump. The more chaos created in the Republican primary, the better Democrats will do in the general election.”
Betras, who backs Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, said it “would make me happy for Donald Trump to beat John Kasich,” the Ohio governor running for president as a Republican.
About 5 percent of Republicans – 350 voters – cast Democrat ballots of those who’ve voted so far, said Chris Rakocy, the board’s information technology manager.
Munroe, who supports Kasich, said that if the governor isn’t the Republican presidential nominee, “I’ll be glad to support whoever is our nominee.”
When asked about Trump’s various controversial statements, Munroe said, “Should Trump be the nominee, he’ll have plenty of time to rehabilitate himself.”
Trump is the reason turnout will be higher than normal for this primary, Munroe said.
“We’re seeing this all over the country; the Republican vote is way up and it’s because of Trump,” he said. “Now, it’s happening in the Valley. Whatever you think of Trump, you can’t take away his ability to energize the electorate.”
There are 161,009 registered voters in the county, including 40,958 Democrats and 14,663 Republicans. The rest are independents, who don’t vote in primaries, with a tiny number affiliated with third parties such as Green and Libertarian.
In Ohio, party affiliation is basely solely on voting in a primary, Munroe said.
“All you have to do is tell a poll worker that you want to vote for a certain party in the primary and that becomes your affiliation,” he said.
Election officials in Trumbull and Columbiana counties say they aren’t keeping track of how many voters are changing party affiliations.
“But we’ve had some people say, ‘I want to switch to the Trump party,” said Stephanie Penrose, Trumbull County’s elections board director.
“There are a lot of Democrats switching over,” said Kim Meeks, Columbiana County’s elections board deputy director. “We see a trend, but we won’t know details until after the primary.”