For the first time, voting booths have opened early for all Ohio voters.
Since Sept. 30, the polls have been open and unlike in past general elections, voters do not have to provide an excuse to cast their ballot early.
With the passage of Issue 2 in 2005, an amendment was made to the Ohio constitution allowing voting during the 35 days leading up to the election.
The first two days of early voting in Ohio saw 448 people turn out, according to Trina Spradlin, management of early voting for the Butler County Board of Elections.
Board of elections Director Betty McGary said she thinks the changes will result in a record turnout this year.
“Any time you set a law in place that would allow more voter participation, it’s a good thing,” McGary said.
She said most of the response she’s heard from voters was that most preferred early voting to standing in line on Election Day.
Dan Seligson, editor of Pew Center on the States’ electionline.org, said early voting could help cut down on lines on Election Day, but that the expectedly high turnout might mean lines will still be long.
“The general sense is all things being equal, it should probably help to reduce lines,” he said. “Now the turnout could be so extraordinary on election day, because there are going to be so many more voters casting ballots in 2008 than in 2004.”
Hamilton resident Larry Kiser voted Thursday because he said he’d be working the polls on Election Day.
Spradlin said a change in mail-in ballots, which allows voters to postmark them as late as the day before elections, would also affect the board of election’s job. This change, part of Issue 2, means ballots can arrive as late as Nov. 14 and still be counted. Additionally, provisional ballots will need to be checked to prove voter eligibility.
She said the changes in early voting amount to a significant amount of paper ballots the board will have to count.
Also, due to an overlap between early voting, which began Sept. 30, and the registration deadline Oct. 6, people could register and vote on the same day. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, about 50 people took advantage of this window, according to Spradlin.
While some expressed concerns of fraud due to early voting, McGary said there is a system in place to fight against that.
“Half our staff is Republican, half Democrats,” McGary said.
She said the ballots are in a double-locked room, which requires a Democrat and Republican key to gain access.
Staff members’ affiliations are based on past voting records, according to McGary.
Seligson said voter fraud could be an issue in the future, but isn’t one yet.
“Questions of voter fraud come up any time we have a high stakes election,” he said. “One of the things that might drive concerns of voter fraud … would be the fact that there are so many new registrants … They did manage to lose a pretty good chunk of ballots in Florida earlier. There’s a possibility of mishandling. But there’s nothing to suggest that there’s going to be this problem in Ohio. Not to me, not yet.”
He said the controversy after the election depends on the margin of victory in the state.
“We use the term, if the margin of victory exceeds the margin of possible error, then you won’t find there will be a tremendous amount of post-election controversy,” Seligson said.
The board of elections, which is usually open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., has extended hours for the month of October. It will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.
The Barack Obama campaign set up a shuttle system from the Shriver Center to the board of elections. It leaves at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 12:15 p.m. Fridays and 9 and 11 a.m. Saturdays.
Thad Boggs of College Republicans said the group hasn’t set up a shuttle, but has been going door-to-door and calling voters to make sure their registration information is correct and they are aware of the opportunity to vote early.