Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner last week announced the statewide results of ballot types cast by voters for the state's March primary. Ohio voters took ample advantage of their freedom to vote early, setting a record last week by casting 503,601 absentee ballots.
Across the state, reports of "back-up" paper ballots saved the day for many boards of elections using touch-screen machines as their primary election system, according to a release from Brunner's office. Nearly 13,000 voters at their polling location requested or needed to vote by using a paper ballot for the March 4 election either by choice or due to unforeseen circumstances with touch-screen voting machines or the lack of power.
Pre-election media polls touted a desire of Democrats at 54 percent and Republicans at 38 percent in favor of selecting a paper ballot if offered one. An accurate assessment of Ohioans' preferences for paper ballots in those 53 touch-screen counties is difficult to obtain for the March 4 primary, said the release. Data collection was affected by the requests of boards that poll workers not be required to ask each voter his or her choice of ballot and by many boards not choosing to advertise at polling places paper ballots' availability. In other counties, there is some evidence that poll workers may have provided provisional ballots instead of regular paper ballots to voters. This will be ascertained with data collected at the official count in the next two weeks.
Backup paper ballots have been considered to be an elections "best practice" for jurisdictions using touch-screen machines, and they proved to be essential in emergency situations to keep Ohioans voting:
- Lucas County -- In Sylvania, electronic touch screen machines were not displaying complete ballots, dropping issues from the choices offered to voters. The Lucas County Board of Elections dispatched a technician to assess the situation. In the meantime voters were able to use the "back-up" paper ballots as an alternate to turning voters away. The problem was eventually fixed and additional paper ballots were provided to the polling location in case of another similar situation.
- Darke County -- A major ice storm gripped the county and crippled power lines, resulting in widespread power outages for the county. Not only were "back-up" ballots made available for Darke County's voters who would have been disenfranchised by powerless touch-screen machines, but Secretary Brunner also worked with law enforcement to assist in the transport of ballots and memory cards from polling places to the board of elections office.
- Knox County -- This county was dealing with the inclement weather. Many machines were able to sustain by battery power but "back-up" paper ballots until power returned, but the back up paper ballots gave poll workers and board workers peace of mind as battery power was dwindling.
- Ross County -- Power outages were reported, and the board of elections needed to utilize the back-up paper ballots in many precincts for a good portion of Election Day.
- Belmont County -- According to reports from The Intelligencer-Wheeling News Register dated March 4, in Belmont County voters reported confusion in using machines and some believed names were missing from the ballot. Again voter friendly "back-up" paper ballots are available to minimize voter confusion.
- Cuyahoga County -- Republican Mayor Pamela Bobst of Rocky River, a Cuyahoga County suburb, detailed her experiences in her city at polling locations. She praised the switch to paper with the knowledge that weather and downed power lines in the Cleveland suburb would have presented challenges for voters had they been using their old touch-screen system.
"We worked extensively with our boards of election officials to be ready for this primary election, with the complexities of multiple ballots, voter crossovers, record turnout and unexpected weather calamities," said Brunner. "I did not want to see any county left in a position of turning voters away. We were prepared, and the great work of our state's elections officials proved it," said Brunner.