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 prove to 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 – are their biggest counties in terms of vote totals. In 2012, those three biggest counties accounted for 29% of the early vote. Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper says this year those three counties are already accounting for 31% 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.
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. the numbers of absentee ballots returned were down more than 19% 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%.in counties won by Mitt Romney, the number of requested absentee ballots is down by 15%. 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 decrease in Democratic counties by as much as 15%,” 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%, while Democratic absentee ballots returned are down 26%. There are a lot more registered Democrats in Cuyahoga County than Republicans. Pepper says while there are some big events planned to turn out voters in Cuyahoga County soon, such as a concert and a rally this weekend with Hillary Clinton. But he said the party is mounting a statewide effort. “Our modeling suggests that we have built a lead of six figures when it comes to who’s actually voted,” Pepper said. “So we feel good that, just like four years ago we built a lead going into Election Day, based on who has shown up, looking at their voting history, we can project that we have at least a 100,000 vote lead already. And we think that will only get bigger going to Election Day.”
The Secretary of State’s office says nearly 1.6 million voters have requested absentee ballots, and just over a million have been returned or cast. By this point in 2012, nearly two million absentee ballots had been requested, and 1.2 million had been returned or cast in person.