Hamilton County voters likely won’t wait longer than 30 minutes to cast their ballots on Election Day after a record-breaking weekend of early voting.
Elections officials predict short wait times at all locations, sped up by electronic polling books that process voting information quickly.
With only a 30-minute wait anticipated at polls on Tuesday, it may seem confusing why hundreds of people waited in line for more than two and a half hours on Sunday to vote early.
Nearly 1,300 voters stood in a line that snaked around the Board of Elections building Downtown for blocks on Sunday in sunny, 70-degree weather.
“I’m watching these people stand in line for three hours yesterday, and I’m scratching my head,” said Alex Triantafilou, the chairman of the Republican Party. “You can come to your polling location tomorrow, I doubt we’ll have anything more than a 30 minute wait.”
But Sunday’s dramatic turnout was part tradition, and part political strategy.
Many African-American churches provided buses and vans to take churchgoers to the polls in Ohio as part of an early voting “Souls to the Polls” push by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Gospel singers sang from a podium across the street from the board of elections. Local candidates paraded by the line of voters with a miniature horse and a piglet. Food trucks gave away free tacos and cupcakes, paid for by the Clinton campaign.
“There were tons of people all over place. For the most part people were in good spirits and tried to turn it into a party,” said Tim Burke, chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections and the county’s Democratic party.
It was a record-breaking turnout. On Sunday, 1,263 early votes were cast, up from 1,147 on the same day in 2012, when Obama was running for re-election.
But Friday was the biggest day so far, with 2,175 voters casting ballots, setting a new one-day early voting record.
The lines may have been long, but early voters in 2012 actually had to wait much longer.
“Four years ago they had to stand in line for four hours” on the weekend before the election, Burke said.
That’s because the board of elections office only had six voting stations in 2012. This year it had 11 stations, and two temporary voting stations were added on Sunday, Burke said.
But future wait times will be much lower, Burke assured. A new board of elections building is under construction in Norwood with double the space and hundreds of free parking spots. Elections officials will move in January 2017.
While the sunny weather last weekend may have boosted in-person voting, overall early voting (which includes mail-in ballots) is still down in Hamilton County from 2008 and 2012.
As of late Sunday, 100,629 early vote ballots were returned, compared to 103,269 on the same date in 2012 and 101,330 in 2008.
“It’s not a terribly significant decrease,” Burke said. “In talking to the board staff today we are about on par with four years ago in terms of percentage of ballots returned … and we anticipate a very healthy turnout tomorrow.”