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What's Driving Lorain County's Record Early Voting Early Numbers?

Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said a record breaking number of people are voting early. [Jenny Hamel / ideastream]
Lorain County Board of Election vote here sign

In 2016, Hillary Clinton took Lorain County by a mere 131 votes. Does record early voting there this year indicate a blue or red wave?

It's impossible to say for certain.

Lorain County has been swept up in the ballot delivery delays caused by printing company Midwest Direct, but Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams has assured voters that the absentee ballots were mailed out last week.

However, Adams said a record number of people are showing up for early in-person voting.

“We are seeing the largest in-person absentee vote we've ever seen,” Adams said. “Every single day, we are breaking records for the previous years on that particular day. And we see that number just increasing.”

Nearly 218,500 people are registered to vote in Lorain County – about 12,000 more than were registered in 2016. However, Adams said there’s no way of knowing for certain which party the spike favors.

Twin sisters Shamera and Shamyra Thomas joined the line of early voters in Lorain County. Both lost jobs as ushers for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Indians because of the pandemic and have been out of work for most of 2020.

“It’s not easy, especially when, you lose two jobs, paying you almost 15 dollars an hour, and then you got nothing,” Shamyra Thomas said. “And then, you know, unemployment's running out and that's it.”

The Thomas sisters said from the beginning Trump didn’t take the coronavirus seriously and blame his poor handling of the pandemic for people like them still being out of work and the deaths of relatives from COVID-19.

“This should not be going on,” Shamera Thomas said. “We need to take this serious. I’m telling everybody, ‘Please, please, please vote this man out.’”

Others, like veteran Bill Brokop, who voted early, stand loyal to the president.

“Being a Vietnam veteran, politicians those days just sold us down the river. [Trump has] done more for us than any president I can remember.  Just look at what he's done for us bringing jobs back. He added to the VA bill and I just filed a claim again for disability. First time I did it, it took it 14 months. This time I was approved in 13 weeks.”

Traci Belcher went in to vote early and said the current political divisiveness is, in part, driving her vote for Biden.

“There's just so much division and it's been really difficult,” she said. “And I don't know how you can live in Lorain County and not see how important it is, the diversity we have here. And you know, we have to honor that.”

Lorain County Urban League President Parris Smith said her staff is making sure people who are registered to vote have a "voting plan."  [Jenny Hamel / ideastream]

The non-partisan Lorain County Urban League has been part of a national effort to help people of all political persuasions “reclaim their vote” at a time when divisiveness has many feeling that their voice and vote don’t matter.

The group’s president, Parris Smith, said the 2020 Census helped their efforts to get more African American and Hispanic residents registered to vote for the Nov. 3 election.  

“We know that there's always that gap between people registering to vote and then actually casting their ballot,” Smith said. “And so our objective has been to get individuals registered to vote and to also create their voting plans. How are they voting? Who are they voting for?”

Dee Baker, the Lorain County Urban League’s Director of Outreach and Civic Engagement, said the staff is seeing a higher level of enthusiasm this year.

“I think people are very anxious for change. And we tried to make sure that they recognize that casting your vote is a cast for change,” Baker said. “I think people want something new. They want something different, and they want to be a part of making that change come true.”

This pandemic has hit the African-American and Hispanic communities harder than other groups, Smith said, making it even more important that they are represented at the polls this year.

“They don't have jobs right now. They're at home. It's not that they just want to sit at home, but then they don't have child care because of COVID-19,” she said. “So many places… and now our schools are closed and their kids are at home and they have to be teachers when they haven't graduated high school. So these are all challenges that we're facing every single day on top of the pandemic, on top of making sure that our voices are heard in this November election.”

In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won Lorain County by comfortable margins. So it came as a surprise to many when on Election Night 2016, Lorain County was called for Donald Trump. Weeks later, after all the votes were tallied, it turned out Hillary Clinton had taken the county by a mere 131 votes.  

Lorain County Republican Party President David Arredondo points to past unpredictability as possible precedent for the 2020 election.

“On Election Night in 2016, Donald Trump won Lorain County and that was just not expected by anyone, by any stretch of the imagination,” Arredondo said.

Voters have been trickling in steadily to get a Trump/Pence sign for their yards, Arredondo said, with the signs so popular that the Lorain and Cuyahoga County Republican Party purchased a fresh batch together "en masse" after original supplies were depleted.

“The Trump Campaign underestimated the amount of signs they had provided the state of Ohio,” said Arredondo, who remains “cautiously optimistic” about the election and is urging Republicans to vote early.

Mike Schleckman , a Lorain County Republican Party volunteer and party precinct leader, has been going door-to-door, masked and maintaining social distance, urging Republicans to vote.

"I tell them all elections are about jobs. Who's going to bring jobs. Who's going to bring opportunity, who isn't,” Schleckman said. “I think the president will bring jobs and bring opportunity. I don't think Joe Biden has done anything in his eight years to bring jobs and opportunity to Lorain and Lorain County.”

Lorain County Republican Party president David Arredondo remains "cautiously optimistic" that President Trump will be re-elected. [Jenny Hamel / ideastream]

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”