Election 2020 saw huge voter turnout in Butler County. What does that mean for future elections?

Voters cast their ballot on election day at Madison schools auxiliary gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Voters cast their ballot on election day at Madison schools auxiliary gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Madison Township. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

HAMILTON ― Early voting in Butler County has steadily grown in federal election years, and 2020 saw record numbers of early votes cast before Election Day.

While that was largely due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and a contentious presidential election, county elections officials believe they may see a residual effect in next year’s local election, when seats on city and village councils, township boards of trustees and school boards will be on the ballot.

In this fall’s election, 109,968 ballots were cast in early voting in Butler County, which was about 60% of the total votes cast in the election.

Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Eric Corbin said although voter turnout in 2021 won’t be at the same levels as this year’s election, officials are preparing for a higher early turnout than usual again.

ExplorePHOTOS: Voters turn out for Election Day on Tuesday

“What we’re trying to do is to take what we’ve learned and prepare ourselves for this volume again," Corbin said. "We expect the local-year election to be a much lower turnout, as it always has been, but we’re kind of hedging ourselves with the expectations that some voters might have seen how easy it was to vote through the mail, or they may come and vote early.”

The 2019 local election saw a low voter turnout with no statewide or countywide issues on the ballot. But in the 2017 and 2015 elections, which had multiple statewide issues on the ballot, more than 9,000 Butler County voters cast an early ballot. In 2017, with two statewide issues and one countywide issue on the ballot, 17.8 percent of the total votes were cast before Election Day. In 2015, with three statewide issues, 9.6 percent of the total votes were cast early.

“So many people have learned about early voting and mail-in ballots this year,” said Jenny Fisher, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Oxford. “I think people have a renewed appreciation for keeping elections accessible and nonpartisan.”

The Democratic Party had a concerted early voting push this election, and Butler County Democrats hoped their actions would alter the county’s political makeup. Despite their efforts ― which included 82.9 percent of registered Democrats voting early ― Butler County voters still backed the status quo by voting heavily Republican in final counts.

Miami University political science professor John Forren said it’s likely too early to draw any big lessons from this year’s results, but “it’s clear that Democrats still face very, very difficult structural challenges in Butler County.”

There are more than 21,800 registered Democrats in the county, but Republicans still maintain a near 2-to-1 voter registration advantage. Registered Republicans did decrease by nearly 31,000 voters from 2018 to 2020 largely due to a lack of voting in consecutive primary elections, according to officials.

ExploreMiddletown income tax to increase: What comes next?

Even with fewer registered Republicans and well-funded and experienced Democratic candidates, Forren said that “Butler County voters largely stuck with the partisan loyalties that have defined the politics of this area for decades. At least for now, this county clearly remains a deep-red area.”

Butler County GOP Executive Chairman Todd Hall said this year’s election “proves once again that Butler County remains strongly conservative.”

“This is a deep red county that operates and legislates on proven conservative principles that work,” he said. "Voters truly appreciate our endorsed and elected amazing Republican officeholders. That isn’t going to change.”

Butler County Democratic Party Executive Chairman Brian Hester said despite some hard losses, there are building blocks for the party.

Former Vice President Joe Biden had the strongest showing in Butler County — 37.2% of the vote — of any Democratic presidential candidate since Barack Obama in 2008, which at the time was the strongest showing since 1976.

Though the party’s Senate and House candidates were soundly defeated, Hester points to the fact that Ohio Senate candidate Kathy Wyenandt had a better showing than the party’s 4th Senate District candidate four years ago, cutting the Republican’s margin of victory by 13 points.

“While Republicans still won, that doesn’t mean things stayed the same here,” Hester said.

Hester said the party made inroads by backing Hamilton’s Issue 13, a charter amendment adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s anti-discrimination policies. Issue 13 passed with 71.9 percent, according to unofficial election results. The party worked with Hamilton’s IAFF Local 20 to defeat Issue 12, which would have eliminated staffing hourly restrictions than was previously allowed by voters. Issue 12 was failed with 68.2 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election results.

“Our focus now is to continue to recruit and develop local candidates next year to be future countywide and legislative candidates,” Hester said.

FACTS & FIGURES

The 2020 election saw records broken, both with voter registration, early votes and requests for absentee ballots. Here is a breakdown of some of those numbers:

109,968: The number of early votes cast on or before Monday, which was more than the early votes cast in the 2016 and 2012 general elections combined (107,860)

71.28 percent: The voter turnout based on the unofficial Election Day results, which slightly under the 71.32 percent turnout in 2012. The Nov. 3 voter turnout will climb as provisional and late-arriving ballots are added during the official run of the election.

42.8 percent: The voter turnout during the four weeks of early voting through Monday.

60 percent: The percent of the total votes cast before Election Day.

LOCAL-YEAR ELECTION VOTER TURNOUT

Butler County elections officials will plan for a higher percentage of votes cast before Election Day 2021 than they have had in previous similar elections. Here’s how many early votes were cast in the past four local elections in Butler County.

2019: 12.6 percent of total votes cast (5,878 early votes)

2017: 17.8 percent of total votes cast (9,444)

2015: 9.6 percent of total votes cast (9,134)

2013: 11.63 percent of total votes (7,364)

In Other News