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Early voting for Ohio's May 3 primary is lagging behind 2018's primary turnout

 A Franklin County poll worker sets up a machine for an early in-person voter at the county's Early Vote Center on Oct 23, 2018
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau
A Franklin County poll worker sets up a machine for an early in-person voter at the county's Early Vote Center on Oct 23, 2018

Despite hotly contested races on the Republican and Democratic primary ballots, the turnout for early voting in Ohio is down nearly 30% compared to the number of ballots cast at this point in the 2018 primary four years ago.

There are two weeks to go before the May 3 primary and Ohioans have been casting absentee ballots — by mail and in-person — since April 5.

As of April 15, around 125,000 early ballots have been requested. That is down 27% compared to 171,954 absentee ballots requested two weeks prior to the 2018 primary.

Of the ballots requested for the May 3 primary, 44,994 have been returned or cast in-person. That's down nearly 30% from 2018 numbers when 63,253 absentee ballots had been cast at this point.

Democratic voter turnout is slightly outpacing Republican turnout with 22,795 Democrats casting an early ballot compared to 21,636 Republican ballots returned.

One thing that isn't on the ballot this May are races for the Ohio Legislature. The Ohio Redistricting Commission has not yet adopted state legislative district maps that are deemed constitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Another election will have to be held so voters can decide primary contests for Ohio House and Ohio Senate seats.

Exactly when that primary will be held is in question. The Ohio Association of Elections Officials is urging lawmakers to allow that primary to happen on August 2, the date already on the schedule for some local communities.

Aaron Ockerman, director of the elections group, said August 2 is the perfect date for a second primary because it allows elections officials time to wrap up the May 3 vote and doesn’t push a legislative primary too close to the November general election. Plus, he said it would be confusing for communities holding local elections on August 2 if they have to hold an additional legislative election on another day around that same time.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose agreed with the elections leaders. In a written letter to state leaders, LaRose explained Ohio elections operate on a 90-day calendar. He said elections boards need about 60 days to prepare for an election and another 30 days to conclude it. He said if you apply the timetables for elections as set in state law between the May 3 primary and the November 8 general election, you land on August 2. He said that's why state law dictates August 2 as a date to hold a special election. LaRose said elections dates are not "artificial" but carefully planned and executed.

The Ohio Supreme Court wrote in its latest opinion invalidating the last round of state legislative district maps that the state could hold a second primary on a date later than August 2.

There's no word on when Ohio's legislative leaders might decide to hold a future election for legislative seats or when they might adopt another proposal for state legislative district maps.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.