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In Key Ohio Counties, Democrats Outpace Republicans In Requesting Absentee Ballots

An absentee ballot application from the state of Ohio.
Darrin McDonald
An absentee ballot application from the state of Ohio.

Ohio has allowed voting by mail as part of its no-fault early absentee voting for 14 years. While President Trump's criticisms of mail-in voting may be getting through to his supporters, Democrats this election are requesting absentee ballots in huge numbers.

Early voting begins on October 6, when voters can start to send back ballots through the mail or at secure ballot drop boxes, or vote in-person at county boards of elections.

As of Wednesday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that county election boards had received over 1 million absentee ballot applications, ahead of pace from the 2016 election.

An analysis of only mailed-in ballots from the 2016 election, compared to absentee ballot applications sent in so far in 2020, shows that requests from Democratic-affiliated voters are way ahead of those from voters affiliated with the Republican Party.

(Voters in Ohio aren’t registered with a party but can be affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party, or they can be unaffiliated if there’s no record of that voter casting a partisan primary ballot for three years.)

In heavily-Republican Warren County, in 2016, three times as many Republicans as Democrats voted early by mail. This year, absentee ballots requested by Democratic and Republican voters are running about even.

But more than two times as many absentee ballot requests have been sent in by Democrats than the total that were mailed back four years ago. Among Republicans, the number who've requested absentee ballots so far is about half of the total from all Republicans ballots returned by mail in 2016.

In very red Delaware County, only 13% of all mailed-in ballots were from Democrats in 2016. But so far, more than a third of all absentee ballots requests received this year are from Democrats, compared to only 20% from Republicans.

The number of requests from Republicans is about 40% of the total of all ballots cast by mail in Delaware County in 2016. But the number of requests from Democrats is more than twice those from Democrats who voted by mail four years ago.

Montgomery County swung to Trump in 2016, voting for a Republican for president for the first time since 1988. But so far, Democrats are outpacing Republicans by almost two-to-one in absentee ballot requests. And already, Democrats have sent in 50% more absentee ballot requests than all of those mailed in by Democrats four years ago.

Erie County had voted for Democrats for president since 1988, but Trump won the county by more than 9 points in 2016, while winning the state overall by 8 points. Erie was the state’s bellwether county – its overall vote most closely matched the overall statewide percentage total in 2016.

This year, Democrats in Erie County have requested twice as many absentee ballots this year as Republicans have. And again, Democrats have already requested more absentee ballots than all the ballots Democrats mailed back four years ago. Republicans have requested just under 40% of the total that GOP voters returned by mail in 2016.

This trend is similar to what's happening in other states with early mail-in voting, including North Carolina, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. Michigan is reporting the opposite – Republican absentee ballot requests are leading Democratic ones there.

It's unclear whether these Democratic voters are asking for early ballots because of concerns about the coronavirus or delays in the U.S. Postal Service. It's also possible that Republicans are responding to Trump's unfounded claims that voting by mail is problematic, and are planning to cast ballots in person on November 3.

Ohioans can register to vote in the upcoming election until October 6, and request an absentee ballot until October 31. But election officials and voting rights groups urge residents to start the process as soon as possible.