Watch a video on the Ohio Issue 1 debate on Tuesday, July 25 in the player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – It’s a busy time of year for county boards of election, even without voters queuing up to cast their ballots.
Election boards across Ohio are overseeing a special August election with higher-than-usual turnout in the days before Election Day. Between verifying addresses for the National Change of Address Program, certifying petition signatures for November ballot hopefuls, and recruiting and training new poll workers, county boards are filled to the brim with blank ballots, high-speed tabulators and unending rolls of “I Voted” stickers.
Although the circumstances of the election break from state history – voters are asked whether to change a 111-year-old provision of the state constitution – running an election follows a familiar routine, regardless of what’s on the ballot.
“We read the tea leaves,” said Aaron Sellers, public information officer for the Franklin County Board of Elections. “We planned, even before the vote to put it on the ballot.”
On a Thursday morning at the Franklin County Board of Elections, the sprawling building on Morse Road bustled with voters – and even more poll workers and volunteers. Registration verification booths, staffed by chipper election workers, lined the front walls of what was once a Kohl’s, while voters were corralled to a line of voting machines in the back of the room.
The line was modest by 10 a.m., barely reaching the building’s entrance, but a steady stream of voters kept it from depleting. The poll worker directing voters to registration booths stopped for a moment, proudly proclaiming that a new voter was in the building.
“I’m sorry, I just had to do that,” the poll worker told the voter after the room finished applauding.
It could have been any morning this week or last, said Sellers. The county board, the only site for in-person early voting in the county, has averaged between 1,600 and 1,800 votes a day, including returned absentee ballots.
Typically, early voting ramps up as Election Day nears, with about 40% of Franklin County voters casting their ballots early or absentee, Sellers said. But the daily supply of voters has been constant since the first day of early voting on July 11.
By Thursday morning, more than 10,000 Franklin County residents had voted.
It’s similarly busy in one county east, at the Licking County Board of Elections – at least, proportionate to the county’s overall voting population. More than 2,000 people have traveled to the election board in Newark to vote in person, as of Thursday morning, averaging well more than 300 people per day.
Unlike other counties, Licking County is no stranger to August elections; the board has prepared for elections for the past four Augusts, said Brian Mead, the board director. But compared to elections with maybe a handful of local issues, the elections board knew turnout would be high.
“This is more than just a simple constitutional amendment,” Mead said. “I think there are underlying issues – and upcoming issues – playing into this.”
Mead expects about 25% to 30% of registered Licking County voters to turn out, a little lower than the 33.5% of voters who turned out for the last major August special election, when Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor vied for an open seat in Congress.
Other counties’ voter tallies are up, too; nearly 3,000 voters in Delaware have voted early, and even more have requested absentee ballots. Pickaway County is also well on its way to reaching November 2022 election counts, with nearly 850 votes cast and hundreds of absentee ballots mailed out.
Licking County is fortunate, Mead said, to have many poll workers who return each election, cutting down on recruitment and training. They haven’t quite met the goal set by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, but Mead isn’t worried. Neither was Sellers, who said Franklin County is about 90% of the way toward its poll worker goal.
On Tuesday, LaRose announced that while the state met its minimum poll worker threshold – 27,587 workers – the state was at about 89% of its goal of 31,811, or 115% of the required minimum. Several central Ohio counties, including Pickaway, Union and Richland, have met their goals.
In Marysville, the Union County Board of Elections is seeing a boost in voters – all but one day has had a higher in-person turnout than the general election last November, according to its director, Brandon Clay. More than 1,200 voters have cast ballots in person as of Thursday.
Although Union County has reached its poll worker goal, Clay said the board is recruiting more workers to add officials to all polling locations. Other counties, like Franklin and Licking, have hired people to fill in gaps, particularly to finish certifying ballot initiative signatures.
Hiring a few extra hands isn’t unusual, Sellers said – accounting for high demand is all part of the routine.
“This is what we do,” Sellers said.
As Election Day nears – and early voting ramps up – early voting counts will likely begin to shoot upward with mailed absentee ballots arriving at county boards. In November, more than 100,000 Franklin County voters cast absentee ballots, not including in person; since late June, the county board has mailed more than 18,000 out.
Of absentee ballots mailed out to Franklin County voters, Sellers said about 90% will make it back to the elections board.
Early voting hours will increase in the days leading up to Aug. 8; check dates and times on the Secretary of State website.