With more than 27,000 already requested, absentee ballot totals could approach 40,000 this election in Lorain County, according to Paul Adams.
The Lorain County Board of Elections director said requests are up roughly 3,500 for this year’s presidential election in Lorain County compared to 2012.
The legislature has opened up in recent years to higher demand for voting by mail.
“Before 2006, you needed to be over 65 or present a reason to have to vote through the mail,” he said. “You had to have a reason like being out of the county or having a disability. Having that large of a chunk of people who’ve already voted will help reduce lines at the polls.”
Adams has watched elections change since the punch card system days when he began as a staffer in 2003.
“It was a totally different system. When there were complaints of long lines in Ohio in 2004, we saw that here in Lorain County,” he said. “In 2006, the legislature began making changes. One of them was opening up the way we did absentee ballots.”
Among the 16,802 residents living in the Amherst school district, 2,284 have requested absentee ballots. Adams said that number has remained fairly steady since the last election cycle due in part to Amherst deciding not to redraw its ward boundaries.
Oberlin City Schools voters number 10,517 and have requested 785 absentee forms. Adams said voting by mail is less popular in the city due to Oberlin College students, who tend to want to show up at the polls in person and publicly support their issues and candidates.
“Many Oberlin College voters don’t live in Ohio,” he said. “In order to cast an absentee mail ballot, you have to provide either your Ohio driver’s license number or the last four numbers on your Social Security card. You can also use utility bills. Many of these students don’t have an Ohio driver’s license. Also, many of them want to come vote in person because they’re passionate about their opinions. They don’t want to vote via mail. We saw charter buses come up here to vote from Oberlin in 2008 and 2012. They were lined up around the building.”
Wellington Schools residents have requested 749 absentee ballots out of 5,598 residents living in the district’s Lorain County portion (some of the district crosses into Huron County). Adams said voting machines in southern Lorain County are increasing this year.
“One thing I’ve emphasized since becoming director is making sure the southern part of the county gets more voting units on election day and we beef up their staff a bit more,” he said. “One reason is that southern Lorain County tends to vote more at the polls on Election Day as opposed to the mail.”
He described a more casual atmosphere at the polls in the area that has built up because of consistency in poll workers and voting locations.
“I’ve been out to observe this in places like Wellington, Pennfield, and Pittsfield a number of times,” he said. “The poll workers have been there for decades. You walk in and it’s a different atmosphere. They’re such close knit communities. That and lower population sizes create a different feel during voting. It’s like a community event.”
Precinct boundaries change too. In the northern part of the county, precincts have been growing and shrinking with cities’ populations, Adams said, which negates the possibility of having the same poll workers for long at any given precinct.
By contrast, the precinct boundary of Pittsfield Township has been the same since the township was created. The entire township is the precinct, which means voters have never had to change polling stations.
Adams said he expects about 15,000 Lorain County residents to vote early in person at his office and 150,000 on election day.
“As we go forward, I think we’ll see early voting open up more and more,” he said. “One concept is to have multiple vote centers in the county. For the 30 days before the election, you could go to any of those locations and vote early. Election Day would become the end of the voting period instead of being the voting period in itself.”
Online voter registration is set to roll out Jan. 1. Ohio voters could previously change their addresses online if they were already registered but could not fill out a new registration.
Adams said online registration systems are in place and ready to go today, but state legislators decided to hold off until after the November balloting.
“The secretary of state’s office has told them online registration is ready to go,” he said. “The system has been created and it’s ready to use. By the next midterms we will have this working online. This helps out us as election officials by reducing the volume of registrations we get right before an election,” he said.
Online registration is expected to do away with many antiquated flaws in handwritten forms.
For example, just before 2004, there were groups take voting registrations on dollies to the board of elections, Adams said. “That brings handwriting into play that not everyone can always read. It creates margin for error. Online it will be much more accurate.”
Adams said he would like to see online voting become a reality one day but there are many kinks to work out first.
“While I think online voting would be a great thing for us to be able to do, I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future. It’s about the concern for security in the system,” he said. “Fraud is also a possibility but it also comes into play with mail voting. We try to do things to reduce that. Right now, our tabulating system in this building is in no way connected to the Internet. There is no risk of it being hacked. Our tabulating servers sit by themselves and they’re only connected to the wall for power.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Civitas Media Paul Adams, director of the Lorain County Board of Elections, says absentee ballot demand has risen so far this year by about 3,500 in the county. As many as 40,000 votes could be made by mail before Nov. 8.