Voters flock to vote early in chaotic election year

Lines for early voting formed at 6 am outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

Lines for early voting formed at 6 am outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

“Morning, morning!” Regina Adams exclaimed to two guards about 7:20 a.m. Tuesday while becoming about the 55th person in line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. “It’s a wonderful morning to vote!”

It was the first morning to vote early in Ohio, where elections boards opened at 8 a.m. Ken Talley, Cuyahoga’s earliest arrival, said he’d come about 6 a.m.

As for Adams, she was thrilled to be so far back in line. “Isn’t this phenomenal, this time of the morning? I am so proud of Cleveland!”

By day’s end, 1,764 people voted at the Cuyahoga board. They seemed to be riding a nationwide wave. According to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, 3.3 million people had voted already in person or through the mail by Saturday, more than four times as many as by that date in 2016. By Sunday, this year’s total rose to 3.8 million.

Many states start voting in September, and all states start getting mail ballots from military and overseas voters.

No Cuyahoga voter interviewed Tuesday said they came early to avoid COVID-19, and indeed the board drew a far bigger crowd than the typical polling place would do on election day. But there were tall plastic curtains between voting booths and social distance markings indoors and outdoors. Voters wore masks and were screened for the virus.

All the voters said they voted early to be sure their votes counted in a chaotic election year. Ken Talley said, “There’s been so much disinformation, it makes it hard to know who to trust. It’s important to make sure my own voice is heard. It’s important to do it early and not be worrying about it. Now I can concentrate on helping other people vote.”

The election season has featured the pandemic, shuttered polling places, changing rules, continuing lawsuits, postal cutbacks and Ohio’s overnight primary postponement. President Donald Trump has claimed widespread fraud without evidence and hinted about defying the results, and these statements have been condemned by leaders of both parties. So early voters in Cuyahoga said they felt safest dropping ballots into boxes at the board as soon as possible.

Ken Talley, the first person in line today for early voting, casts his ballot at board of elections.

Ken Talley, the first person in line today for early voting, casts his ballot at board of elections.

Mail ballots are soaring too. By Sept. 29, officials had received 2,000,489 mail ballot applications in Ohio, more than double the number by that date in 2016.

Tuesday was sunny, with no need for the canopies that covered the first few dozen voters. The line stretched at times from the board’s door at 2925 Euclid Ave. down East 30th Street and around the corner of Chester Avenue. Voters leaving a few minutes before 11 a.m. said they’d spent about an hour and ten minutes here.

By day’s end, the line shrank until it reached just the corner of Euclid and East 30 th , according to Mike West, the board’s outreach manager. “Everything went smoothly,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, he said the line is now very short.

Several candidates and supporters posted signs and greeted the crowd. Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden gave out coffee and donuts in a parking lot nearby. There appeared to be none of the Republican poll watchers some people worried would intimidate early voters.

Early voters in this mostly Democratic county said it was more important to vote this year than ever. “If we get another four years of what we’ve been through, we might never get back,” said John Mitchell.

Monday was the last day to register in time for this year’s election. Ohioans may check their registrations online or by phone toll-free at 877-767-6446.

Registered Ohio voters can apply for mail ballots until noon on Sat., Oct. 31, 2020. But officials urge those voters to apply as soon as possible. The mail might take two to five days in each direction, so late October might be too late.

Pending any more changes in the rules, voters must postmark completed mail ballots by Monday, Nov. 2, or put them in dropboxes outside their election boards by 7:30 p.m. of Election Day, Nov. 3. But voter advocates are still fighting in court for more dropboxes.

People can also vote early at their respective counties’ elections board through Monday, Nov. 2. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose recently issued a clarification that voters who have already applied for or received mail ballots can still vote early in person, without having to use provisional ballots, as they would if voting in person on Election Day.

Cuyahoga’s board is at 2925 Euclid Ave. The hours for early voting in any county are:

Monday, Oct. 5, through Friday, Oct. 9, and Monday, Oct. 12 through Friday, Oct. 16 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Monday, Oct. 19, through Friday, Oct. 23: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 24: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 25: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Monday Oct. 26 through Friday, Oct. 30: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 31: 8 a.m. through 4 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 1: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 2: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Their last chance to vote is Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3., from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. They may vote that day only at their neighborhood polling places.

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning reporter who spent 34 years with The Plain Dealer. He has also published freelance articles, fiction, and “John D. Rockefeller: Anointed With Oil” (Oxford University Press).

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