File photo of early voters at the Franklin County Board of Elections. (Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.)
With just one week until Election Day, early vote figures show a modest increase overall compared to the last midterm cycle. Continuing a trend, big jumps in early in-person voting are compensating for declining absentee ballot requests.
Latest trends and figures
At most recent count, 1.24 million voters have requested their ballots early either absentee or through early in-person voting. That’s up from this point in 2018 by 2.64%.
Absentee ballot requests, which make up the overwhelming majority of the total, are down by more than 55,000 representing a 5.4% decline. Early in-person voting, meanwhile, has jumped by almost 90,000 ballots, or an almost 50% increase.
Taking all three of the Secretary of State’s weekly early voting updates together a relatively clear pattern emerges. From the first week, absentee ballot requests have lagged the 2018 mark. The margin has only grown with successive updates. Even after a revision, early in-person voting has far outstripped the last midterm election and that margin has grown as well.
The trends aren’t limited to Ohio either. Gallup shows a noticeable bump in early voting nationwide as well as a decline in reliance on absentee voting by mail.
One important note to consider is just how much early voting happens in the final week of the election. By this point in 2018, voters had turned in 736,464 ballots. When it was all said and done, more than 1.35 million rolled in. Counties saw their total number of submitted ballots jump in that final stretch by more than 80% on average.
As ever, a deadline is a powerful motivator.
The last-second surge might offer a modicum of comfort to Democrats eyeing traditional strongholds like Cuyahoga and Franklin County where absentee requests have lost ground. Strong in-person turnout mean both counties are so far exceeding the 2018 mark for ballots returned and submitted, but modestly.
Republicans are more likely to cast their ballot on election day, but the party might be happy with what it’s seeing in counties that lean to the right. In 2020, President Biden won Ohio’s six biggest counties. Former President Trump won everywhere else, save Athens.
Medium to large counties where Trump did particularly well — think Clermont and Warren near Cincinnati or Stark and Medina near Akron — are seeing increases in absentee requests, early votes and the number of ballots returned and submitted. Looking at the 25 counties where Trump picked up 75% or more of the vote, only Monroe, Shelby, and Vinton Counties are the only ones that aren’t surpassing their 2018 totals for ballots cast thus far.
A notable outlier is Butler County — one of the larger counties near Cincinnati and the birthplace of Republican U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance. In 2020, Trump carried Butler by almost 25 points. While early in-person voting is up this cycle, absentee requests are so far behind that its overall early vote down by more than 26%.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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