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Turnout small for Tuesday’s primary

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Voter turnout was extremely light across the Buckeye State during Tuesday’s primary election.

Statewide, no Ohio county topped a 20% voter turnout, with only 7.9% statewide participation. And only 14 of the 88 counties saw more than 10% of registered voters take part.

In Belmont County, the turnout was 4.75% with 2,125 votes cast out of the 44,716 registered voters in 70 precincts.

“It was definitely small, but I’m not sure it was a record for the smallest that had taken place in Belmont County,” board of elections Deputy Director Kamron Chervenak said. “It was a smaller election, but it was obviously still important. Every election is important.”

In Harrison County’s 16 precincts, a total of 833 ballots were cast out of 10,017 total registered voters.

Dion Troiano, director of the Harrison County Board of Elections, said his office was relatively pleased with the results, considering the state average was less than 8%.

“We had 8.32%, so compared to the state average we had a pretty decent turnout. We had 833 people come out, so that was more than we thought would show up, but less than our high-end estimations. We estimated at most a 10% turnout because that’s the historical average when they have these second primaries, so we’re pleased with the turnout we had.

“I don’t think it was one of our lowest turnouts,” he said. “Some of our odd-number years can get around there depending on who all and what all is on the ballot, but it’s one of the lower turnouts we’ve had in the past decade.”

There were many factors involved that could have decreased participation, such as placing the final primary in the middle of summer and the few contested races on the ballot. Disputes over redistricting meant some races could not be voted on during the May primary.

“The two races that would go on to November, the Democrat state representative and the Republican state representative, they were running unopposed. … The fact that the Democrat State Central Committee being unopposed was probably a big deciding factor,” Troiano said.

“A lot of the people who called in and had questions about candidates didn’t really recognize the names of the state central committee people,” Troiano said.

He said the cost of the election in the county was about $12,000-$15,000. That expense is covered by the state, which had set aside $20 million to cover costs across Ohio.

Belmont County received $161,702 from the state, and the cost of the election was expected to be $100,000-$150,000. Chervenak said the exact cost has not been calculated.

The boards are now preparing for the Nov. 8 general election, which is expected to be a different story.

“Given it’s a governor race, we’re probably going to look forward to a 50-75% turnout, somewhere around there. We’ve got our federal races, governor and the state supreme court has the chief justice and two regular justice seats that are up for elections, along with our state reps and our state senators,” Troiano said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a continuing impact on elections, from the increase of mail-in ballots to the drive for more poll workers after many longtime older poll workers chose to retire. Belmont County and Harrison County face similar issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic definitely changed a lot of things,” Troiano said. “A lot of people realized voting from home was an option, instead of going to the polls for some of our older voters who aren’t quite as mobile or don’t feel like making the drive out on Election Day. It gives them more time to do research on the candidates and make their decision in a safe and comfortable manner.

“We did have some of our more health-conscious and elderly poll workers who didn’t work during the pandemic or last year, some of them have come back,” he said. “It is a 16-hour day for some of them, depending on when they get back and when they check in, and they don’t want to put up with it, but we have found replacement poll workers.

“We’re trying to get some of the high-schoolers into it,” Troiano said, adding that students must be 17 years old and high school seniors. In addition, anyone who needs a continuing legal education credit and works as a poll worker will get one. “Mostly lawyers and realtors is who that’s geared toward, so we’ve had a couple lawyers sign up to be poll workers in this last election and the May primary.”

Belmont County also expects things to change in the fall.

“All eyes are going to be ahead for November,” Chervenak said. “It’s going to be a much larger-scale election. … More publicity and more of a crowd. … It’s going to be a lot more than 4.75 percent, I can safely speculate.”

Harrison County was able to downsize its poll worker staff from 64 poll workers to 32 by having two poll workers at each of the 16 precincts rather than the usual four, but the full complement of 64 will be needed for the November election, plus an additional 15 percent or more as recommended by the state as backups, bringing the number to 74.

“We’re always looking for people,” Troiano said.

Belmont County had reduced its poll workers to 210, or three for each polling location, on Tuesday. A minimum of 280 poll workers will be needed in the fall – 140 from each party, with the added 15 percent bringing the number to 332.

“We are very thankful for our seasonal workers, and we are always looking for new workers as well,” Chervenak said.

The Monroe County Board of Elections did not respond to calls seeking comment Thursday, but out of the 9,260 registered voters in 20 precincts, 772 total ballots were cast for an 8.34% turnout.

For more information, the Harrison County Board of Elections can be reached at 740-942-8866. The Belmont County office can be reached at 740-526-0188, and the Monroe County office at 740-472-0929.

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