MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Hamilton County’s early in-person voting traffic has been no lines, walk in-walk out.

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

Two weeks ago early voting began in Ohio’s primary election. In two weeks more, the election will be decided. So far, county officials report turnout has been steady, but the figures have been far from overwhelming. By the end of last week, just shy of 60,000 voters had cast a ballot in-person and another 37,000 returned absentee ballots by mail or at their county board.

Compared to the 2022 primary, early in-person voting is on track to finish slightly higher while mail-in votes are lagging. The thing is, 2022 didn’t have a presidential race at the top of the ticket.

The presidential contest has yet to make a serious impression in Ohio. Without a serious rival to the Democratic incumbent, and a challenger well on his way to clinching the Republican nomination, it’s as if they’re skipping over the primary to focus on an increasingly likely rematch of the 2020 general election.

That leaves the Ohio’s U.S. Senate race as the biggest game in town. But again, the Democratic incumbent isn’t facing a challenge, and for all the sharp elbows on the Republican side of the race, many voters remain undecided.

This week, early voting runs 8:00 am-5:00 pm through Friday, and 8:00 am-4:00 pm Saturday. Next week, county boards will offer extended hours running from 7:30 am-7:30 pm, and they’ll offer limited hours on that Saturday and Sunday. The Secretary of State’s office has the full voting schedule posted on its website.

The view from county boards

Aaron Ockerman, who heads up the Ohio Association of Election officials, said so far the primary isn’t far off from expectations. “It’s not super crazy like it will be in November,” he said, noting he hasn’t heard stories about long lines, “but it’s not as slow as a typical primary.”

In Franklin County, board of elections spokesman Aaron Sellers described early vote traffic as steady, “but it’s certainly on the lower end of turnout models.” He chalked up the sluggish turnout to a less than competitive presidential race.

“People have an understanding of who is going to be running in November, so it feels like there’s not much for them to vote on,” he suggested.

Sellers added it feels like a lull after enormous turnout in 2023. Those elections, led by high profile ballot measures, drove enormous early voting turnout around the state. In August, almost half a million Ohioans voted early in person. In November, they cleared that mark, finishing at more than 570,000 ballots cast.

For comparison, on an average day about 7,400 Ohioans are voting early in-person in the current election. Last August, an average day saw more than three times that many voters.

Licking County Board of Elections director Brian Mead described current turnout as “lower than what I expected.” He said early in-person voting will likely pick up, but he doubts mail-in ballots will match his expectations. Like Seller’s he pointed to a presidential race that seems all but decided.

“The Senate (race) is going to push some,” he said, “but it’s a heavy lift.”

In Hamilton County, board director Sherry Poland said, “primaries are hard to gauge.”

She described her current turnout as roughly on par with the 2016 presidential primary and said part of the explanation is the lack of a county wide issue on the ballot. So far, Poland said, Hamilton County’s early in-person voting traffic has been no lines, walk in-walk out.

Tonya Wichman, who heads up the Defiance County board, said they’ve had a “steady flow” of voters but acknowledged it’s “not the normal turnout we’d have in a presidential year at this point.”

Like Poland she pointed to the lack of local ballot issues.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.

Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.


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