Cuyahoga County: Confusion about early voting

4:37 PM, Oct 28, 2013   |    comments
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CUYAHOGA COUNTY -- Eight days before Election Day, early voting is lagging in Cuyahoga County.

"(With) the lack of a controversial or passionate issue on the ballot ... it's kind of sparse," said Elections Board Director Pat McDonald.

Only about 10 percent of registered voters have requested by-mail ballots. And only a little more than a third of those have returned them.

And only around 700 people have early-voted in person at the board.

Ernesteen Rush is a regular early voter.

"I always vote early. ... You can have a cup of coffee and watch TV while you're voting," she said.

She brought her ballot to the Elections Board instead of mailing it.

There are important countywide and local issues on the ballot.

Presidential contests, governor's races and statewide issues evoke the most emotion.

But local issues more directly impact pocketbooks.

There are countywide issues for the port, Metroparks and Health and Human Services. There are multiple local school levies.

Cleveland and numerous suburbs are electing mayors.

Many voters are confused because Cuyahoga County used to send all registered voters applications for early voting.

That stopped in 2011. But Secretary of State Jon Husted sent all registered Ohio voters applications last year.

This year, the state's not sending, and counties can't.

McDonald said, "We are not allowed to send out unsolicited applications to citizens across Cuyahoga County any more."

The Health and Human Services levy campaign team realized even regular voters were waiting for applications that weren't coming.

Consultant Alan Melamed said, "In September, the question we were getting most was not about the merits of the issue or what's on the ballot. It was 'When do I get my application for a vote-by-mail ballot.' "

The campaign paid to send applications to 92,000 households or about 115,000 regular voters and to pick up the cost of return postage.

"We need to get the voters who are going to vote," he said.

Cuyahoga County's Democratic party sent applications to 80,000 faithful Democratic voters in Cleveland but did not pick up the tab for return postage.

Husted is on the record as intending to send applications to all Ohio voters next year and wishes to send them in presidential and gubernatorial election years.

A new Republican proposal in the legislature would permit that, but only if lawmakers provide funding and would prohibit individual counties from sending applications.

Supporters of that measure stress the need for consistency across the state.

Ernesteen has a simple solution.

"All voters should get one automatically," she said.

McDonald projects overall turnout in Cuyahoga County will be around 25 percent.

There will be early in-person voting at the Board of Elections this weekend, Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 5 p.m.

Applications for by-mail ballots are still available on the Elections Board website.

But officials caution with days waning, it could be risky to count on sending one and getting a ballot back in time.

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