Absentee voters make presence felt

NORWALK Two weeks before election day, the number of absentee ballots cast in Huron County already e
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

NORWALK

Two weeks before election day, the number of absentee ballots cast in Huron County already exceeds the total number of absentee ballots cast in the 2004 general election.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 3,800 Huron County residents already voted absentee compared to about 3,300 total in 2004.

"That's a lot for us ... and we have two weeks to go," said Tom Gerrity, deputy director of the Huron County Board ofElections.

Ohio law now permits any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot by mail or by walking into the board of elections office to vote.

This presidential election is the first using this new no-fault absentee voting system.

In past elections, voters had to provide an excuse for why they had to vote early.

"They can do it now. You used to have to have a reason so you could vote absentee," said Deborah McDowell, director of the Erie County Board of Elections.

With the interest surrounding this election, people eager to participate in the democratic process have steadily streamed into the Huron County elections office each day, Gerrity said.

The same is true at the Erie County office, which has received more than 8,200 requests for absentee ballots.

By Tuesday morning 3,809 absentee ballots had been cast in the county, McDowell said. In the 2004 election 5,818 Erie County residents cast an absentee ballot.

The Ottawa County Board of Elections has received 3,988 requests for absentee ballots. In 2004, 2,976 people submitted absentee ballots in Ottawa County.

Up until 2006 in Ohio, absentee ballots were meant for voters who were going to be hospitalized, incarcerated, out of town, worked as emergency responders, or were 62 or older.

But here's the catch: Board of elections offices did not investigate these claims. This meant anyone could vote absentee simply by saying they thought they would be out of town on election day.

"We could check if they were over 62 or not because we had people's birth dates, but if they said they were police or emergency medical professionals, or something like that, we never checked if they were telling the truth," McDowell said.

Gerrity said he suspects some people who cast absentee ballots in 2004 did not technically meet the requirements for doing so.

The Ohio Legislature opened up absentee voting to everyone -- no excuses needed -- as a way of providing more voting options to residents, said Kevin Kidder, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office.

"I know a lot more people are going to take advantage of it. At the last primary, we had a half million people who did it. I know we've said we expect at least 25 percent of people will take advantage of absentee ballots, either in person or mailings," Kidder said.

The more people who vote early, the shorter the lines will be on election day, election officials said. But the prospect of absentee ballots significantly reducing the wait on Nov. 4 is not promising, said JoAnn Friar, director of the Ottawa County Board of Elections.

Instead, the benefit of absentee ballots is they allow voters a chance to study the issues more in depth before turning them in.

"It's a two-page ballot with five state issues printed out on it, plus our local issues, so some of it might be that (voters) just want to come in and do it at their leisure, or have the ballot sent to their homes at their leisure," Friar said.

WHERE & WHEN TO VOTE

* Erie County Board of Elections, 2900 Columbus Ave., Room 101, Perkins Township -- 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 3; 8 a.m. to noon Nov. 1.

* Huron County Board of Elections, 180 Milan Ave., Norwalk -- 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 3; 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.

* Ottawa County Board of Elections, 8444 W. Ohio 163, Suite 101, Oak Harbor -- 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 3; 8:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 1

* Sandusky County Board of Elections, 2020 Countryside Drive, Fremont -- 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 3; 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.

* Seneca County Board of Elections, 71 S. Washington St., Suite 1101, Tiffin -- 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 3; 8:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 1.

* Polling locations are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 4.