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Government & Politics

Dwindling Early Voting Numbers Could be Trouble for Ohio Democrats

Photo of Matt Borges

Early voting numbers are coming in from the last few weeks, and from the first weekend of early in-person voting. And the numbers could be problematic for Democrats, who found success with early voting in the last presidential election. 

For Democrats, the state’s three most populous counties – Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton – provide their biggest vote totals. In 2012, those three biggest counties accounted for 29 percent of the early vote.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper says this year those three counties are already accounting for 31 percent of the early vote.  

“So we feel very good that our most important counties, size-wise at least, are coming in well. Cuyahoga, I think, had a little bit of a slow start, but in the last five days we’ve seen a lot of momentum there. They had their biggest day on Saturday. They seem to be having a very big week,” Pepper said.

Dems' fortunes hang on early voting
Early voting in Ohio in 2012 favored Democrats, and helped President Obama win Ohio by just under three points. Going into 2016’s first full week of in person early voting – which included this past weekend – early voting numbers are lower than four years ago.

Trying to follow patterns in a nontraditional year
The numbers of absentee ballots returned were down more than 19 percent from this point in 2012, according to stats from the Secretary of State’s office.  So far this year, in counties won by President Obama, the number of requested absentee ballots is down by nearly 22 percent. In counties won by Mitt Romney, the number of requested absentee ballots is down by 15 percent.

But Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges said he’s pleased with the numbers so far.

“We’re definitely seeing a decrease in absentee voting, early voting overall. And it’s declined much more sharply in Democratic counties and among Democrats, which I think speaks to a lack of enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton, and I’m pretty confident now that we’re seeing some polling coming out in the final days that Donald Trump is going to carry Ohio,” Borges said.

But the two major parties don’t just watch those numbers; they also monitor the party affiliation of people asking for and returning absentee ballots, to try to predict who they’ll vote for.

Again, Borges is pleased.  

“We’re seeing some increases in Republican counties for sure. We’re seeing decreases overall, and we’re seeing decreases in Democratic counties by as much as 15 percent,” said Borges. “And as you know, Mitt Romney won Election Day in Ohio in 2012, and it was the early vote that prevented us from being able to cut into that lead enough to win.”

A key county for both parties is Cuyahoga County – and numbers from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections show Republican absentee ballots returned there are up 13 percent, while Democratic absentee ballots returned are down 26 percent

There are a lot more registered Democrats in Cuyahoga County than Republicans. Pepper says there are some big events planned to turn out voters in Cuyahoga County, including a Jay Z concert with Hillary Clinton Friday night.