Early voting down in Ohio, Hamilton County - are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to blame?

Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-26 08:31:41-04

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County voters aren’t as eager to turn in their ballots so far this presidential election year.

With two weeks to go before Election Day, early voting is lower than it has been in the last two presidential election cycles.

“We’re a little down,” said Hamilton County Board of Elections director Sherry Poland. “We look at numbers too and wonder, What does this mean?”

As of Tuesday morning, 37,644 people had voted early in Hamilton County – which is 17,949 fewer ballots than were cast at this point in the 2012 election.

And fewer people have requested absentee ballots so far – 6,000 fewer ballots this year than in 2012, and 1,600 fewer than 2008, according to Hamilton County elections data.

The lower turnout number could suggest that voters are still deciding how – or if at all – they want to vote, said Chip Gerhardt, president of Cincinnati-based Government Strategies Group and a member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

“A lot of people who would traditionally vote for the Republican or Democrat are less sure this time,” Gerhardt said. “It causes the person to stop and think a little longer: Do I really not vote? Do I really want to cross party lines? Do I really want to pick a third-party candidate?”

Still, Gerhardt doesn’t expect early voting numbers indicate that people won’t flock to the polls on Election Day.

Voters are passionate about this election, Gerhardt said, but just not in the same way he’s seen in past years. This year, many voters are inspired to vote a certain way because they dislike one of the candidates at the top of the ticket. He expects roughly 70 to 75 percent of registered voters to turn out by Nov. 8.

“More people on both sides are angry,” Gerhardt added. “That’s the dynamic in this election that I see that’s different from those in the past.”

Statewide early and absentee voting is down, too. As of Monday, roughly 344,000 votes had been cast.

Flashback four years ago and 800,000 Ohioans had sent in a ballot or early voted at the same point in 2012.

Early voting started a week later this year, but other factors could be keeping some from casting ballots.

Jared Kamrass, a Democratic strategist, believes Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s accusations of a rigged election are actually backfiring and dampening voter turnout from his own supporters.

“Either the Trump supporters will say, ‘The game is rigged, why even participate?' …  or the mainstream Republicans will say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable voting for him,’” said Kamrass, a principal at Cincinnati political consulting firm Rivertown Strategies. “I think both will have an effect on turnout, and I think we’re seeing a little of that here.”

Republicans aren’t staying home in GOP stronghold Butler County, Trump needs to have historic voter turnout if he has a shot of winning Ohio.

The county is bucking the statewide trend: Absentee voting is up 9 percent over the same period during the 2012 presidential election and up 21 percent from 2008, according to Tuesday’s data.

In-person early voting is also 3 percent higher so far in Butler County from the same point in 2012 – this despite having early voting open eight days later in 2016.

“This pattern reflects the increased popularity of early voting,” said Butler County elections deputy director Jocelyn Bucaro. “Given the increase in overall absentee voting and early voting in particular, we continue to anticipate record turnout in November.”

Kamrass expects to see a big return in absentee ballots next week and he’ll be watching the results closely in the coming days.

“The raw numbers are down, but not substantially,” Kamrass said.  “It’s hard to draw any real conclusion about voter enthusiasm away from this.”