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2020 Ohio Primary: Voter Turnout Expected To Be Much Lower Than 2016 Primary

On Tuesday afternoon, poll workers at the Franklin County Board of Elections on Morse Road wore face masks and occasionally gloves as they guided voters to the proper location.

“What we did is we prepared to put the most number of machines and people in here with the social distancing component so that we could handle as many as possible," says Aaron Sellers, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections.

Ohio's primary election had been originally scheduled for March 17, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and moved almost entirely to mail-in ballots. Now, voter turnout is expected to be much lower than the presidential primary four years ago. 

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said over 1.9 million Ohioans had requested absentee ballots by the deadline Saturday, and 1.5 million had already submitted them by Tuesday. In comparison, 3 million Ohioans voted in the 2016 primary election.

In-person voting on Tuesday has been restricted to voters with disabilities or those without a permanent address. Voters who requested but did not receive their mail-in ballots in time could also cast provisional ballots in person.

“It moved fairly quickly,” says voter Mark Goudy. “It was a little complicated and confusing, but I mean I think it’s probably the best, I could have expected for as many people that are turning up really.”

Goudy isn't the only voter who found this election complicated. Mike Brickner says his group All Voting Is Local is hearing from voters who didn’t get their ballots in the mail or didn’t understand the voting process.

“It has been very confusing, very frustrating for voters," Brickner says.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, more about 725 voters had cast either an in-person or provisional ballot at the Franklin County Board of Elections. The deadline to mail ballots was Monday, but all of the state's boards of elections offered a secure drop box where voters could place a ballot without getting out of their car.

By the end of the night, officials say they expect only about 200,000 voters in Franklin County to have participated in the primary. That number is down from 350,00 voters in 2016, when both presidential races were competitive and the Republican primary included then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“We try not to get in the business of turnout because it’s so unpredictable,” Sellers says.

Polls close at 7:30 p.m.