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Early voting off the charts in Belmont County

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Board of Elections Deputy Director Aaron Moore, clockwise from left, Director McCabe and board members Lois Doneson, Frankie Lee Carnes, Robert Quirk and Michael Shaheen review ballots Monday that may not have been clearly marked. They report high numbers of early voting.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The presidential election is only a week away and the Belmont County Board of Elections is seeing record-setting turnout for early voting.

Onset of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the March 17 primary election, which eventually was completed via by-mail voting. The general election will proceed normally but with extensive precautions to guard against spread of the disease, and many residents are opting to participate in the election by casting their votes prior to Election Day on Nov. 3.

On Monday evening, board members held their last meeting prior to the election to review early ballots that may not have been filled out clearly and to take stock of preparations. A line of people stood outside the board headquarters Monday evening, waiting to cast their votes. Board members said this has been the case since the start of early voting Oct. 6.

“We have had over 4,000 people vote here at the office as of (Monday),” Director Kelly McCabe said. “The staff has been really amazing. They’ve worked many, many long hours and they haven’t complained. Anytime we need them, they’re here.”

Board member Michael Shaheen said around 9,900 mail-in votes have been received, placing the number of early votes cast close to 14,000.

“There have been times when we don’t have 14,000 votes in a whole election,” Shaheen said. “We’re thrilled.”

About 2,209 early voting ballots that were mailed out to voters are still outstanding. McCabe said ballots received after Nov. 3 must be postmarked the day before the election on Monday, Nov. 2.

Board member Frankie Lee Carnes said the drop-off box is often full of ballots.

“We empty it during the day, all day long,” McCabe said.

McCabe added that sanitary supplies and protective equipment will be delivered to voting locations in time for use on Election Day, and she said training of poll workers is complete.

The board declined to speculate about how the preponderance of early voting this general election might impact operations or the count on Election Day itself.

Meanwhile, deputies from the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department were on duty at the board headquarters while people voted. This policy was set up due to some “aggressive” behavior by voters in the first days of early voting who objected to being required to wear masks and forbidden to display political symbols.

“We had some initial hiccups in the early stages,” Shaheen said, adding the process has quieted down and there have been no further incidents.

“We thank the public for helping our employees make their day go a little smoother,” Carnes said.

The board does not foresee the need to take any additional security precautions at voting locations or at the board office during Election Day.

“Normal security is scheduled. Local law enforcement are ready on call. Everybody’s on alert if there’s an issue,” Shaheen said.

Board member Robert Quirk said traffic control will also be active at board headquarters on Election Day.

Hours for early voting are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Early voting continues from 1-5 p.m. Sunday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, the day before Election Day.

Polling locations will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Absentee ballots being delivered in person must be dropped off by 7:30 p.m. that day.

The Belmont County Board of Elections is located at 52180 National Road, St. Clairsville and can be reached at 740-526-0188.

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