Election officials won’t expect long lines today but will plan for them

Today’s much-anticipated election will hopefully not result in what officials wanted to avoid amid the novel coronavirus pandemic: long lines.

The 2020 presidential primary election was postponed and shifted to mail-in voting because of the pandemic threat, but still will draw thousands of in-person voters statewide, which will threaten the health of voters and elections workers. Those with disabilities and those without a mailing address are the only ones permitted to vote at their county board of election from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. today.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Brian Sleeth, Warren County’s elections director.

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Voters can also hand-deliver ballots to the elections office until 7:30 p.m. today.

On March 16, Ohio’s public health director Dr. Amy Acton declared a public health emergency and ordered all polls closed for the March 17 presidential primary election. After a push by state officials to delay the primary to June, Ohio lawmakers set the all-absentee ballot election of today.

For Butler County officials, it’s 10 weeks of planning for an election that was initially scheduled primary.

“We’re excited to get the results, and then move toward November,” said Diane Noonan, Butler County’s elections director.

Butler County Deputy Director Eric Corbin said they expect to have votes counted by 8:45 p.m. today, but that is dependent on how many ballots are returned close to or at 7:30 p.m.

Tens of thousands of ballots have been cast in Butler and Warren counties since the original primary election day was postponed, and thousands of ballots are still outstanding as of Monday.

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The county boards of elections are taking steps to protect workers, marking six-foot distances and limiting how many people will be allowed in the office at a time.

Both will use sheriff’s deputies for traffic control.

Corbin and Sleeth said they don’t know how many people will show up, but Butler and Warren will plan for worst-case scenarios, where a couple thousand could show up to vote.

“I hope we don’t come anywhere close to that tomorrow,” Corbin said.

In Butler County, Corbin said election workers will wear face masks, and there will be shields set up between public and staff. Hand sanitizer will be available and voting cards and machines will be sanitized as they are used.

Sleeth said he hopes numbers don’t top “three digits” on Tuesday.

“But I have to prepare for thousands of people to show up,” he said. “That might be a little unrealistic, but I can’t be caught any other way.”