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Early voting begins, 313 cast ballots at county election board

LISBON — Pandemic, plus a contentious presidential election, equals lots of interest in voting early at the Columbiana County elections board.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election began Tuesday, and when election board workers arrived at 8 a.m. they found 10 to 15 people waiting in line at the door. By the time the doors were locked nine hours later, 313 voters had showed up to cast their ballot rather than vote absentee by mail or wait for election day.

“We really haven’t had a lull all day, which is to be expected,” said Bryce Miner, deputy elections board director.

The elections board only has six employees — the director, deputy director and four office staff. To help with the anticipated jump in the number of people wanting to either vote early in person at the office or via absentee ballot, the election board hired nine seasonal employees.

Director Kim Fusco said this is the week they are also allowed to start mailing out absentee ballots, and the first batch should begin arriving at homes Thursday or Friday. Nearly 13,000 of the county’s 66,000 registered voters have requested an absentee ballot so far, and the deadline is noon Oct. 31.

“I just want to let the public know their absentee ballots are coming,” Fusco said, adding anyone wanting to check on the status of their ballot can go to the election board’s website or call the office at 330-424-1448.

Fusco said those who have requested an absentee ballot but change their mind and now want to vote at the elections board or at their polling place on Nov. 3 can still do so. For those who change their mind, they should destroy their absentee ballot. The board’s computer system will keep track of who has voted in person or by absentee ballot, and the system will automatically alert staff if someone has done both.

“It won’t let us accept their absentee ballot” if someone already voted, she said of their voting system, adding voting twice in the same election is a felony.

Absentee ballots sent by mail must be postmarked no later than Nov. 2 to be counted.

The 2020 primary election marked the first time in Ohio history an entire statewide election was conducted by mail, because of the COVID-19 virus. In response to the virus, Gov. Mike DeWine postponed the election 15 hours before the polls were to open on March 17. DeWine sought to move the election to June 2 but the state legislature passed a law rescheduling it for April 28 and ordered it be conducted entirely by mail.

During the primary, election boards around Ohio placed post office-like boxes outside the office for people to drop off their absentee ballots rather than mail them in, and Fusco said the box will be there again for those who want to do that. Ballots dropped off after 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 will not be counted.

The issue of drop boxes is the subject of a lawsuit filed against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. In the wake of a recent court ruling, LaRose issued a directive telling election boards they can have more than one drop box but it must be at the office. This could change because of other pending lawsuits on the issue.

Fusco emailed the four board members to poll them on whether they wanted her to add more boxes. She does not believe that is necessary because Columbiana County is a small, mostly rural county.

LaRose is also giving election boards the option of having bipartisan teams of one Democrat and one Republican monitor the drop box, but Fusco also believes that is unnecessary. She said there is a security camera specifically aimed at the box, which is emptied several times a day during work by a two-person team consisting of one Democrat and one Republican.

Fusco said conducting the primary election prepared them for what lay ahead, and they have been planning ever since. They purchased additional equipment using $68,000 in federal COVID-19 assistance funds received by county commissioners.

The equipment includes a device at the door which consists of a pedestal with a screen about the size of a cellphone attached at the top that will take your temperature and ask you to put on a mask if you are not already wearing one. Staff will be assigned to these stations.

Fusco said they also purchased a machine that automatically opens absentee ballot envelopes and wide enough so workers can easily remove the ballot.

What if someone intends to vote in person but the election is canceled again at the last minute? Fusco does not think that is likely because of the law passed this summer by the state legislature prohibiting general elections from being moved.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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