By the time I arrived at the Franklin County Board of Elections last Thursday afternoon, the long line waiting to vote I’d seen in photos had mostly dissipated.
Once I made it past the gauntlet of enthusiastic partisans in the parking lot — Please take a quick glance at this giant stack of pamphlets, won’t you? — the rest of my early voting experience was a breeze.
There is much talk this fall about having a voting plan. Those casting absentee ballots by mail want to avoid crowded polls, perhaps mindful of the ongoing pandemic. Many want to use their county’s ballot drop box to bypass the mail system.
As a reporter, I’m usually busy on Election Day. I’m also a tad impatient. So early in-person voting is the plan I have stuck to in recent years.
I am far from alone. A poll this month of likely Ohio voters from the New York Times and Siena College found that 17% of respondents planned to cast their ballots early in-person.
That would amount to more than a million Ohioans heading to their board of elections office (or in some counties, a stand-in location) to cast a ballot between now and Nov. 2.
As such, the first week at these offices around Ohio was a busy one. Two residents in Toledo actually camped out overnight in order to be the first in line to vote.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is fond of saying that if voters are comfortable going to their grocery store, they can feel comfortable heading to the polls. From my experience at the polls and in dodging stubborn non-mask-wearing customers this year, I’d say the secretary’s comment rings true.
Those with an increased risk for serious illness are wise to stick to a mailed ballot. For those interested in voting early in-person but have questions about the safety of the process, here is how it went for me.
Everyone waiting in line to vote wore masks. Inside, we were handed green stylus pens to use on the voting machines. We were guided to one of about two-dozen stations where officials, sitting behind a clear barrier, checked our voter identification.
One-by-one we were ushered into the even larger voting room, with rows of machines with plenty of distance between them. A helpful elections worker wearing a face mask and shield talked me through how to use the machine.
Afterward, I dropped off my stylus. A worker told me they are sterilized before being used again. Judging by the ocean of green in the box, there must have been hundreds — perhaps thousands — of voters before me that day.
Outside, a golf cart sat waiting to take elderly voters back to their cars.
The Secretary of State’s Office has outlined pages of guidance to elections workers to maintain a safe voting environment this fall. I left feeling rather impressed with the efficiency and methodical execution of these safety rules.
Here is a map of the early voting locations in Ohio: