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Election Protection is WKSU’s community information initiative focused on access, policy and community resources around voting this November.

Early Voting Turnout May Set a Record in Stark County

photo of line outside Stark County Board of Elections on first day of early voting Oct. 6, 2020
Kelly Woodward
Voters line up outside the Stark County Board of Elections Oct. 6. The turnout may have set a record for the first day of early in-person voting.

It looked like rock concert tickets or the hottest Black Friday deal was up for grabs at the Stark County Board of Elections Tuesday.

Within the first hour of the first day of early in-person voting, 200 people cast their ballots.

And by midafternoon, it had doubled the entire first day of early turnout four years ago.

“Is this more crowded than you have usually seen it? Yes. Yeah. Usually we just park and walk in.”

Pam and Charles Davenport of Canton are used to casting their ballots shortly after showing up for early in-person voting in past general elections. But for 2020, northing is normal.

At lunch time, the couple joined a line of around 15 people wearing masks on the sidewalk standing 6 feet apart. As we talked, it continued to grow. “There’s a crowd. Thank goodness. The more the merrier."

Regina Johnson is the deputy director of the Stark County Board of Elections. She says she's never seen anything like the turnout Tuesday on the first day of early voting
Kelly Woodward
Regina Johnson is the deputy director of the Stark County Board of Elections. She says she's never seen anything like the turnout Tuesday on the first day of early voting

“It is normally not around the building and down to the end of the parking lot," said Regina Johnson, deputy director of the Stark County Board of Elections, as she described the line when she showed up this morning.

She also saw another site she had never seen before.

“There were two women in lawn chairs, decked out in glittery attire, and they said they were so excited they spent the night in the lawn chairs. And they just wanted to be first and they were very excited to be voting," Johnson said.

In the first hour of voting, 200 ballots were processed at the board of elections, compared with 533 for the entire first day of early in-person voting in the 2016 presidential election.

In the early afternoon, it surpassed 1,000. By day's end, 1,624 people had voted. Johnson says avoiding anticipated crowds on Election Day during the pandemic is one reason more people are showing up early, but there is something else evident in the crowd, too—a spirit of wanting to make sure their voices matter in this election.

Jeff Helfrich of Massillon was determined to vote in person after hearing President Donald Trump talk, without basis, about the fraud he claims will accompany widespread mail-in voting.

“I feel like the administration’s going out of its way to discredit the vote early, so they can’t really discredit it if I show up at the office and vote in person," Helfrich said. “It’s going to be really hard to say that I didn’t vote legally this way.”

Although the Ohio secretary of state and other election officials have assured voters that mail-in absentee ballots are safe, a few in line today, such as Ronald and Dorothy Bush of Canton, doubt the postal service.

“We were looking forward to exercising our rights to vote, and there’s so much obstruction with the mail-in ballots and what have you," Dorothy Bush said. "And I just thought it would be best to come in person to make sure everything went well, without a hitch, and we’re just enjoying the process.”

“It’s a beautiful day," Ronald Bush said. "I just wanted to get out here early to make sure my vote counts."

However, there are a lot of Ohioans who feel confident about voting by mail-in, absentee ballot. A record of just more than 2 million Ohio voters so far are choosing to vote this way.

The board of elections says many locals have been calling and are anxious to receive their ballots, which are now in the mail. Early in-person voting continues through Oct. 31. The final two weeks include night and weekend hours.

Kelly Murphy Woodward, a regional Emmy Award-winning producer, loves to tell a good story and has been privileged to do that for more than 20 years, working in public television and radio, commercial news and running her own production business. She is passionate about producing quality programming for Northeast Ohio.