Hamilton County nears record number of cast ballots despite COVID-19

WRITTEN BY: Hunter Ellis, Managing Multimedia Editor

Photo courtesy of votehamiltoncountyohio.gov

The Hamilton County Board of Elections (BOE) is on pace to receive a record number of votes cast in the county despite facing several challenges throughout the 2020 election cycle.

As of Nov. 4, when unofficial vote totals were last updated, there have been 421,337 ballots cast in Hamilton County. The official count is expected on Wednesday, Nov. 18. 

According to Sherry Poland, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, this number could break the record of 433,058 ballots cast in the 2004 presidential election, depending on how many absentee ballots and provisional votes are left to be added to the tally when the official count is taken.

However, Poland noted that she did not see a substantial shift in the energy around the candidates on the ballot in 2020.

“We’re looking at a 70% turnout, which is about what we would normally expect to see in Hamilton County during a presidential year,” Poland said.

Hamilton County has a higher average of turnout percentage than the national average, which is around 60%.

“I think the county is always energized for presidential elections, and (voters) didn’t let the pandemic stop them,” Poland added.

While the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop voters from turning out, it did present some new challenges for the BOE staff. The largest changes made were to their methods of finding poll workers and in setting up their polling locations.

Merely 10 days before the Ohio primary election, which was originally scheduled for March 17, the BOE was instructed to move all polling locations out of senior living facilities.

Poland recalled it was at this point that the BOE staff knew COVID-19 was going to affect the upcoming election.

“We also knew at that point what our next problem would be, that if our older generation is at risk for this virus, many of our longtime poll workers would cancel,” Poland said.

The BOE staff was impressed by the amount of people who stepped up to fill the vacant poll-working positions, from students who were home from college, to attorneys who could receive professional credits for working the polls thanks to a Supreme Court decision.

“All of a sudden, it wasn’t just the Board of Elections trying to recruit poll workers, it was our whole community, and our society stepped up to fill those roles,” Poland said.

Jeremy Jimmar, an election administrator in the absentee ballot department, noted another challenge the BOE staff faced due to COVID-19 was rethinking their traditional setups at many polling locations.

In 300+ locations across the county, spaces were redesigned to accommodate for six feet of social distancing. Personal protective equipment was also provided for each poll worker.

Even the early voting space at the BOE was reworked, which accommodated for an influx of almost 60,000 additional early votes that were cast in person this year, more than had ever been cast before.

The redesigns of spaces, hiring of extra staff as well as purchases of new equipment were all achievable because of funding the BOE was able to secure through the CARES Act and a private grant.

Both Poland and Jimmar also confirmed that they believe the election results in Hamilton County were safe and secure, as voter fraud lawsuits are being filed across the country.

“First off, it’s important for people to know that results on election night are always an unofficial count. Elections are called by the media and by campaigns, never by the Board of Elections,” Poland said.

In Ohio, absentee ballots that are postmarked by the day before election day and received by 10 days after the election are always counted.

“A lot of times we hear ‘you only count those votes if you need them.’ We’re not really sure what ‘if you need them’ means, but no, we always count every eligible vote in the official count, whether they are absentee or provisional,” Poland added.

Despite these setbacks, Poland also expressed optimism with this election cycle. 

“If there is one good thing coming out of this post election period, it is that more people are becoming aware and knowledgeable… about how our elections work,” Poland said.