The Campaign Spot

The Mystery of Ohio’s Missing Early Voters

I mentioned this earlier in the week, but it’s still nagging at me, and we have some new numbers…

This year, Ohio allowed any citizen not registered to vote to show up, register, and vote on the same day in  Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 window. The AP was writing back in August, “If Obama’s campaign were able to tap into college campuses with one-stop voting, it would add thousands of votes to his tally in a state where, in 2004, John Kerry lost to President Bush by only about 118,000 votes, putting Bush over the top in the electoral count.”

Those who were already registered were also permitted to use the early voting window. The expectation was that lots of Ohioans would partake of the opportunity. The Washington Post reported, “The Ohio secretary of state’s office estimates that a quarter of all voters will cast their ballots as absentees or at an early voting location before Election Day, more than twice as many as did so four years ago.” (Obviously, absentee would make up a large chunk of that, but one would figure the early voting window would attact its fair share.)

And the anecdotal evidence was that the Obama campaign was readying the Mother of All Turnout Operations in this state. The Washington Post poll of Ohioans, 40 percent said they had been contacted by the Obama campaign either in person or by phone, an astonishingly high percentage. Bruce Springsteen was doing a concert at Ohio State University to get people out for early voting. Cuba Gooding Jr. was deployed to events in Dayton, Hamilton, Lima and Toledo.

So, with all of this buildup, the total early voter turnout?

28,466.

Out of about 8.2 million registered voters.

That is a little bit more than three-tenths of one percent.

In Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland? 6,951, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Out of about 1.1 million registered voters.

In Franklin County, which includes Columbus? 9,280.

(This is the county that had 817,000 registered voters in 2004 and only 815,000 residents over 18.)

Hamilton County, which includes, Cincinnati? 4,772.
Summit County, which includes Akron? 4,303.
Montgomery County, which includes Dayton? 3,160.
Statewide, only 5,223 used the new register-and-vote-at-the-same-time window.

Now, we shouldn’t read too much into this. It’s still possible that the Obama campaign is assembling the biggest, most advanced, and most awe-inspiring get-out-the-vote operation in American political history. But it would seem that if the Obama camp wanted to get a lot of voters out during this early voting period — and why wouldn’t they? Even if you wanted long lines throughout Election Day to justify keeping the polls open longer than scheduled, every voter who votes now is a vote you don’t have to worry about on November 4 — then in the first major test, their get-out-the-vote system… fell well short of expectations? Underperformed? Was AWOL? Wasn’t really utilized?

Keep in mind, at less than one half of one percent turnout across the state, the McCain camp appears to have dramatically underperformed, too. But that’s what makes this so weird. It’s the most covered, most hyped, most passionate election anybody can remember, in the most key of swing states… and neither side can move significant numbers of voters to early voting?

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