ASHLAND -- As of Wednesday, 40 percent of eligible Ashland County voters have already cast their ballots for the 2020 general election via in-person early voting or by mail-in/drop-off ballot.
Ashland County Board of Elections Director Shannon Johnson anticipates the total will grow by another 10 percent -- possibly eclipsing 50 percent -- before early voting ends at 2 p.m. Nov. 2.
When election day votes are accounted for, she believes voter turnout in Ashland County could hit 83 percent, which unsurprisingly far surpasses last November’s turnout of 25.40 percent, but also easily hurdles past the 70.80 percent turnout in the last presidential election year, 2016.
Already, the percentage of absentee ballots (including in-person and mail-in) has overcame the 2016 turnout of 34.9 percent.
However, perhaps what is most noteworthy is that if voter turnout reaches Johnson’s estimation, it’d even exceed voter turnout of 81.44 percent in the 1992 general election, according to voter turnout data from November 1989 through present day.
“I expect this weekend to be hugely popular. Voters need to expect lines, and they may have to wait,” Johnson said.
The board’s early voting space was relocated into a larger room to better accommodate voters, but the wait may be outside. It seems likely this weekend will be busy, she said, noting the office has already experienced lines in the past few weeks.
Still, she estimates the average voter is in-and-out between five and seven minutes.
As of Wednesday morning, those voting via absentee ballots had deposited 2189 ballots in the drop box outside the Board of Elections office.
“It has been a great addition, allowing us to cut down on foot traffic in the office and not interfering with the early voters,” Johnson said.
Voters may drop their ballots into the box through 7:30 p.m. on election night when poll workers will collect those ballots to be included in the unofficial numbers released on election night.
By law, the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Saturday, Oct. 31, but if someone intends to vote in this way, they are encouraged to request their ballot as soon as possible.
"If you request your absentee ballot at noon on Saturday before the election you're going to receive it in most cases Wednesday, Thursday or Friday after the election is over,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said.
Valid absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by Nov. 13 will still be counted. LaRose, however, cautioned there is no need to wait until the last minute.
"The last thing we would want to do is create that expectation where Ohioans think they can wait until the last minute,” LaRose said. “I think if any of us would admit, any of us that have ever been a college student before we know that procrastination is a bad idea right? Same thing with being a voter."
LaRose said two-thirds of Ohioans requesting absentee ballots have already returned them.
More than 2.7 million voters had requested absentee ballots across the state by Oct. 20 — nearly double the 1.4 million requested at that same point in 2016, according to LaRose.
“Anybody that says it’s hard to vote in Ohio is simply not telling the truth. It’s easy to vote in Ohio, it’s demonstrably easier to vote in Ohio than almost any other state in the nation, and it’s something that we’re proud of and Ohioans are taking advantage of that," he said.
Below are answers to common questions about voting in the upcoming election. Answers were provided by Ashland County Board of Elections Office’s Shannon Johnson.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting my polling station?
On election day, voters should expect COVID-19 related precautions at their polling locations.
Voters may need to enter the facility in a different way and should practice social distancing, which could cause longer lines to form.
Johnson suggests voters aim to cast their ballots during lower demand times such as mid-morning and afternoon, if possible. Those with greater flexibility in their schedules are encouraged to consider making a drive by to monitor lines.
The Board of Elections is asking all voters to wear a mask to protect poll workers. Disposable masks will be available for those who may need one.
There will be staff members in the area cleaning surfaces between every voter.
When and how can I turn in my absentee ballot?
By law, the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Saturday, Oct. 31, and the deadline to have that ballot postmarked for return is Monday, Nov. 2.
Voted absentee ballots can not be dropped at polling locations on election day. They must be brought to the Ashland County Board of Elections Office at 110 Cottage St., Suite 106, Ashland. The ballots can either be hand delivered to the office or dropped in the box outside the building.
The ballots can also be returned anytime during early voting or office hours or dropped in the box anytime before election day. Voters may drop their ballots into the box through 7:30 p.m. on election night.
Two election officials will be stationed at the drop box collecting ballots, if backups occur. The box is always monitored via a security camera.
How can I ensure my mail-in ballot counts?
Voters should visit lookup.boe.ohio.gov to check the status of their ballot.
The website allows voters to see if their ballot has been received and if it is approved for counting.
If it ballot has an error, this site will give instructions to correct it.
As of Oct. 28, approximately 77 percent of Ashland County’s mail-out ballots have been received. Only a few have fatal omissions, Johnson said. Voters are urged to check the above website if they’ve mailed in or dropped off an absentee ballot.
What if I requested an absentee ballot, but now I want to vote in-person?
If a voter has requested an absentee ballot and appears at their polling location on election day and wishes to vote, they will have to cast a provisional ballot, Johnson said.
Provisional ballots are cast by individuals who have not updated their information, moved, changed their name, been challenged, have no ID, or possess an ID that does not match what appears on the official registration list.
Learn more about provisional ballots here.
What if I plan to vote in-peson but don’t feel well or have been exposed to COVID-19?
If a voter is feeling ill or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, they may request to curbside vote.
To curbside vote, the voter must appear at their polling location and call the Board of Elections office, where a volunteer will verify they are in the correct location and all information on file for that voter is up-to-date and accurate.
The Board of Elections will then call the polling location to inform the volunteers there of the necessity to assist a voter, who is waiting in his or her vehicle.
Workers have been instructed to assist the curbside voters in full PPE for their protection.
When and where can I find local election results?
Results from the Ashland County Board of Electiosn will be posted beginning at approximately 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The first set of results posted will reflect the mail-in and early voting numbers.
The board’s goal is to release the county’s unofficial totals by 9:30 p.m.
Valid absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by Nov. 13 will still be counted at a later time.
To view the unofficial results on election night, visit boe.ashland.oh.gov.
Richland Source reporter Carl Hunnell contributed to this report.