By Sean Rice
Mercer County is on track for the largest number of voters using the absentee ballot system and possibly the largest turnout of voters ever in this county on an Election Day.
The county elections board added two extra employees to handle the influx of absentee ballot requests, registration changes, ballot preparations and numerous other tasks leading up to Nov. 2.
Mercer County has been breaking records for voter turnout in the last four years, ranking in the top 15 in the country in 2000 and among the highest in the state in elections since.
That trend may continue as the elections office has processed about 16,000 new and amended voter registrations since the primary election in May. Also, election officials already have sent and handed out 1,500 absentee ballots. With 17 days until the election, that number already exceeds the 2000 presidential election, when nearly 1,400 were sent out.
Mercer County Elections Director Diana Grile said the numbers, "are higher than ever." The deadline for new voter registration passed in early October. Ohio residents who moved within the state since last registering can still vote with a provisional ballot on Election Day, as long as the voter has voted in the past eight years. Such voters need to request a provisional ballot at their current polling location or at the elections board office in the Mercer County Courthouse.
Absentee ballots, for voters who cannot get to the assigned polling location on Election Day, will be received until the polls close at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2.
Soaring registration numbers are not uncommon across the state. The Ohio Republican Party sent information to news organizations stating that fraud allegations also are being reported in several counties.
Mercer is one of four of Ohio's counties highlighted by the Ohio Republican Party as having a higher number of registered voters in the county than eligible voters according to U.S. Census estimates.
Grile said the high number of new registrations and address changes only show a high participation rate.
As many as 5,200 of the 31,819 voter registrations in Mercer County are on lists pending removal. They include voters who did not vote in the last presidential election and did not answer election board contacts; those on duplicate lists awaiting confirmation; residents who may have died out of state; and others with registrations pending confirmation, Grile said.
Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Hinders said several groups have contacted the county seeking election information, apparently preparing for lawsuits. He said questions received recently deal with who has access to ballot counting and storage areas and who has access to computer modems that transmit election data.
Hinders told The Daily Standard votes are not sent over a modem, they are hand delivered when the polls close by Boy Scouts. When not in use, election material is in county storage.
When Election Day arrives, informed voters will have more choices for president than just Republican George Bush, Democrat John Kerry and the others printed on the ballots. Six other candidates and their running mates are approved as write-in candidates for Ohio.
They are: David Keith Cobb, a Green Party candidate; Richard A. Duncan, an independent; James Harris, a Socialists Workers candidate; John Thompson Parker, with the Workers World Party; "Average Joe" Schriner, an independent; and Thomas F. Zych, an independent. Zych's Web site states: "Switch to Zych, he's someone else" and "It's not like he has anything else to do."
Helen Meyers is an approved write-in candidate for Ohio's U.S. Senate race this year between Republican incumbent George Voinovich and Democrat Eric Fingerhut. Meyers, of Cleveland, is running under the Socialists Workers Party, according to Wright State University election information.