Confusion, anger to crush voter turnout Tuesday, election officials fear
By DAVID SKOLNICK
Mahoning Valley election officials have lowered their already low turnout expectations for Tuesday’s primary.
Turnout will be poor because of voter confusion and anger over two primaries and a dislike for the election process, they said.
“People are kind of disgusted with politics,” said Thomas McCabe, director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections as well as the county Republican Party chairman. “There’s a lot of disconnect with politics, and that keeps people at home.”
State legislative and state central committee races are not on Tuesday’s ballot because the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected four sets of state House and Senate districts maps, citing gerrymandering that unfairly favors Republicans. As a result, a lot of confusion surrounds Tuesday’s election.
A second primary for the races not on Tuesday’s ballot will take place later this year, likely Aug. 2 though nothing has been finalized. That primary is estimated to cost $20 million to $25 million statewide.
“It’s confusing to voters,” said Stephanie Penrose, director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections. “We’re confused (at the board), and we do this every day. People are asking about the second primary and the date isn’t carved in stone. There’s a lack of interest because of the uncertainty of everything and people say, ‘Forget about it. I’m not going to vote.'”
Penrose added: “They’re fed up with the process and their answer is not to vote. The die-hard voters aren’t going to miss it no matter what. But others will skip it.”
A month ago, before the start of early voting, Penrose predicted turnout for the primary to be between 20 and 25 percent. She had previously expected 30 percent turnout before the decision was made to have two primaries.
Penrose now said it will be a lot closer to 20 percent based on the lack of interest in early voting.
McCabe last month expected turnout to be in the low 20 percent range. He now says it will be under 20 percent.
In 2018, the last election for statewide candidates, turnout was 24.81 percent in Mahoning and 24.98 percent in Trumbull. In 2014, it was 21.86 percent in Mahoning and 20.45 percent in Trumbull.
Polling locations will be open Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Also, hours for in-person early voting are 1 to 5 p.m. today and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.
The Mahoning early voting center is at Oakhill Renaissance Place, 345 Oak Hill Ave., Youngstown.
The Trumbull board is renting space at a vacant building at 2911 Youngstown Road SE, Warren. It is next door to the board offices.
There aren’t any local races in Mahoning County on Tuesday’s ballot except for party precinct committee seats. There are races for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House for both political parties as well as a Republican secretary of state primary. There are local issues to decide in certain parts of the county.
“There are no high-profile races on the Democratic side that have caught people’s attention,” McCabe said. “On the Republican side, there’s interest in the Senate and the governor’s races. But this is a primary. Over half of the voters don’t participate anyway because they’re nonaffiliated voters.”
He added: “Confusion is another factor. We get asked, when is this primary? It’s May 3. When is the other one? We don’t know.”
There are a number of contested local races in Trumbull County for both political parties, in addition to the statewide ones, on Tuesday’s ballot.
Democrats will choose nominees for county commissioner, county auditor and a common pleas judicial seat while Republicans will vote for U.S. House, county commissioner and a position on the 11th District Court of Appeals. Both parties also have precinct committee races. There are also local issues in parts of the county.
“There’s more interest in the local races than in the state races,” Penrose said. “But still the interest level isn’t as high as we expected.”
The second primary is expected to be Aug. 2, but the state Legislature has not yet approved that date.
McCabe said turnout for that second primary will be under 10 percent.
In Mahoning County, Republicans in the second primary will only be voting in a contested race for state central committeeman and possibly to get a write-in candidate for an Ohio House seat on the general election ballot in about half of the county.
In half of the county, Democrats will only be voting in a contested state House race. The other races for both parties have candidates who are unopposed. But state law requires a primary election, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
In the second primary in Trumbull County, there will be Republican races for state central committeeman and woman and an Ohio House race, but the latter will only be in part of the county.
On the Democratic side, there will be a contested Ohio House race in the other part of Trumbull County.
“We’ll have to do a quick turnaround for that second primary,” Penrose said. “It’s rapid-fire elections. Turnout will be very low for the second primary. I don’t see people turning out for it. I feel bad for the candidates in those elections. They’re not going to get the turnout they deserve.”
It’s also going to be a challenge to find people to serve as poll workers during a second primary, she said.