Voting is huge and fairly smooth in Cuyahoga County with a week to go

There’s still plenty of time for a crazy election season to grow even crazier. But, with a week of voting to go, officials and activists are feeling more confident about a big turnout handled pretty smoothly under the circumstances.

Voters cast ballots last Saturday at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.JPG

There’s still plenty of time for a crazy election season to grow even crazier. But, with a week of voting to go, officials and activists are feeling more confident about a big turnout handled pretty smoothly under the circumstances.

What clashes might follow Election Day is anyone’s guess.

Jessica Schreiber, a board member of Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, says, “Voters in Cuyahoga County appear to be energized and highly motivated to vote in this election. Lines are long but appear to be manageable and most voters are wearing masks and social distancing.”

“We are thrilled about the high participation levels and enthusiasm among voters,” Jen Miller, who leads the League of Women Voters of Ohio, says about one of the most challenging, contentious elections in the nationwide league’s 100 years.  

The league has recruited ministers and social workers to serve as peacekeepers outside voting places. But Miller and other Ohio leaders report little purposeful disinformation or intimidation, just confusion among voters and sporadic mistakes by officials.

Ohio is seeing record levels of mail ballots and early votes in person. Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced today that 2.2. million Ohio votes have already been received. That’s about 2.5 times as many as at the same point in the general election season of 2016. It’s also well more than that whole season’s 1.9 million votes cast early or by mail.

In Cuyahoga, with plastic curtains and other precautions in place, the elections board has recorded 38,991 votes in person through today, compared to just 21,276 such votes by this point in 2016. The board has also gotten about 247,000 mail ballots already, compared to about 228,000 for all of the 2016 general election.

Turnout is high nationwide. As of this afternoon, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, 68.6 million votes have been received in person or by mail. already far more than the 58 million   early or mail votes received in the 2016 general election.

A slow but cheerful line

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Ohio county election boards began sending out mail ballots and hosting early voters. That morning, the line outside the Cuyahoga board at 2925 Euclid Ave. stretched down East 30th Street and around the corner to Chester Avenue.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, the boards hosted their first weekend day of early voting. Cuyahoga’s line stretched even further on Chester this time, crossing over the Innerbelt, about 0.3 miles from the front door. Officials later rerouted the line alongside an exit ramp.

At one point, volunteer Raphael Sacks of All Voting is Local counted 700 people in line. Voters who’d come a little past the 8 a.m. opening hour took about 90 minutes to vote. But few complained.

“I’m impressed,” said John Farina. “Everyone out doing their civic duty.”

“I would wait all day,” said Georgia Tillotson. “This election is very important.”

Some younger voters may consider mail ballots obsolete. Marco Bocanegra of Mayfield Heights said, “I never put anything in the mail in my life.”

During early voting, candidates and their supporters have stumped Cuyahoga’s lines from legal distances. No one has been caught trying to intimidate voters there.

“There’s no troublemakers here,” said Mike West, spokesman for the Cuyahoga elections board. “We wouldn’t tolerate it.”

Voters interviewed said they hadn’t encountered any intimidation or disinformation there or elsewhere, in person, on line or through that obsolete mail.

A long, clamorous year

The election has been marred nationwide by disputes, lawsuits, changes in rules, cutbacks at the postal service, false claims of widespread voter fraud, and, of course, COVID-19. Ohio’s primary was postponed in the final hours, and other states closed many primary polls.

In recent weeks, a couple of ballot boxes have been set ablaze, and two postal workers have been accused of dumping mail that included ballots. California leaders have wrangled over unofficial Republican ballot boxes. Two Michigan right-wing activists have been charged with sending 85,000 robocalls to Ohio and elsewhere claiming that voters could face arrests, debt collection and forced vaccinations.

Ohio’s Franklin County issued some 50,000 ballots with wrong information. In Cleveland, the Midwest Direct printing company flew a Trump flag and fell behind this month on distributing mail ballots for other counties. On the 20th, the company reported catching up, and West says it never lagged with Cuyahoga voters.

In midyear, activists worried that the pandemic would scare off too many workers to staff the usual number of polls on Election Day. By now, though, every Ohio elections board has found more than the minimum number of workers needed.

Cuyahoga is still seeking a few extras for Election Day or the season. But West says the board already has enough workers to handle the votes on time.

Vote ASAP, but don’t apply for a mail ballot anymore

If you’ve already gotten your mail ballot, officials urge you to complete and return it as soon as possible via a mailbox or your elections board’s dropbox. The ballot must be postmarked before Elections Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, or dropped off by 7:30 p.m. that day at your board.

Mail needs postage. Prices can vary within a county, but every Cuyahoga ballot envelope needs 70 cents.

Elections board drop boxes require no postage.

If you haven’t returned your mail ballot, you can still vote early instead. On Election Day, though, you could vote in person only at your neighborhood polling place with a provisional ballot.

If you’ve already applied for a mail ballot, but haven’t gotten it yet, you can check Track My Ballot. West says it might take two to five days from the time the ballot’s issued until it reaches your mailbox.

If you haven’t yet applied for a mail ballot, officials say it’s too late to count on getting one in time. They urge you instead to vote in person early or on Election Day.

Early voting will continue daily at Ohio elections boards through Monday, Nov. 2. The hours will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Monday.

The last chance to vote in person will be Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3., from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Voting will happen that day only at neighborhood polling places, not at elections boards.

West expects all Cuyahoga votes received by the end of Election Day to be unofficially tallied and reported that night. But Ohio ballots postmarked no later than Election Day will be accepted through Nov. 13. Complete results are supposed to be certified by Nov. 24.

By then, the disputes might just be beginning.

Questions meanwhile? Contact your elections board (in Cuyahoga, 216-443-VOTE or -8683), the Ohio Secretary of State (877-767-6446) or activist groups such as Election Protection (1-866-OUR-VOTE or -687-8683).

For help reaching Cuyahoga’s polling places or drop box before or during Election Day, call the Famicos Foundation Voter Hotlne at 216-306 2278 or Ride to the Polls at 216-801-1101.

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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