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Record absentee ballot and in-person voting in Ohio

In addition to the presidential race, Ohio will also be voting for 16 congressional seats on Election Day. The last two elections haven’t seen a competitive race, partly because of how the district maps are drawn. Karen Kasler, Ohio Statehouse Bureau Chief, Ohio Public Radio and Television, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the political and electoral landscape in the battleground state.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In addition to the presidential contest, Ohio voters are facing numerous choices on their ballots this year, including all 16 Congressional seats. There hasn't been a competitive race for the last two elections, in part because of how district maps are drawn. For more on the state of play here in Ohio I spoke with Karen Kasler, Ohio Statehouse Bureau Chief for Ohio Public Radio and Television.

    Right now, there is so much attention being paid to voting irregularities, especially considering so many people are already voting. What are some things in Ohio that people are concerned about?

  • Karen Kasler:

    Ohioans have been early voting since 2006. So this is not new to Ohioans. It's not a brand new experiment. But this year, 2.1 million Ohioans have asked for absentee ballots by mail and that is much bigger than the previous record of 2 million back in 2012. So this is a huge number. And they've been flooding boards of elections with these absentee ballot requests.

    And now with early voting in-person underway, they've also been coming to the early vote center in each county. Right now, we have tripled the number of people who came in the first week: 193,000 thousand Ohioans cast ballots in-person the first week. That's triple the number that cast ballots in 2016 in the first week.

    So these are huge numbers that are coming in. Most of them are unaffiliated voters because they haven't voted in primaries and the number of people who are affiliated with the Democratic Party has really been much larger than the number of voters who've said they're going to vote early from the Republican Party. And it's interesting to watch those numbers, not that there's an assumption that a Democratic-affiliated voter will vote for a Democrat. It's just interesting to watch that partisan breakdown.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are some of the issues that are actually driving people to the polls here?

  • Karen Kasler:

    Well, I think the economy is always an issue. Ohio is typically a state that goes into recession first, comes out of recession last. There are certainly some issues with Lordstown and losing that plant up in Youngstown. There's been a lingering effect of the opioid crisis in Ohio. Thirteen people were dying a day at one point. So these issues were existing before the pandemic.

    Then you had the pandemic. Now you've got huge numbers of people who have filed for unemployment claims. Sixty-one percent of Ohio's restaurants and bars say that they're not going to come back after this. The state had to build a whole system to try to pay out those federal benefits to those people. And there's a real struggle for people to find what's happening next.

    Ohio is one of the first states to shut down, shut down early. Ohio was the first state to shut down schools, for instance. And so all of these things have contributed to people deciding, I think this time that they are going to cast a ballot. And we have eight million registered voters right now in Ohio. That's the largest number we've had since 2008. And it will be interesting to see what the percentage of that eight million that actually turns out to vote.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Are there particular races that we should be paying attention to are there particular precincts or anything that we should be looking for on election night?

  • Karen Kasler:

    Well, in 2016, Donald Trump won Ohio by eight points. Since then, the Republicans have had some losses. Democrats have had some gains. We didn't have a 'blue wave' in Ohio in 2018, we had blue tornadoes or blue storms, kind of because the five executive offices, governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and attorney general went to Republicans. But Democrats were able to flip five seats in the Ohio House in total, and they were in suburbs. Three of them were around Columbus, one was around the Akron area and one was around Cincinnati. And those are the races that they kind of go along with the races that we're looking at now for election night.

    I think in the first district, Steve Chabot is running against Kate Schroder. We have in the 10th District, Mike Turner running against Desiree Tims. And then in the district right above Columbus, in the 12th District, we have Troy Balderson running against Alaina Shearer. What's interesting about all those races is those were areas that started to see some blue creeping in in 2018. Those are three well-known Congress members, all men running against women. And the women have been outraising the men. And this is really making those races something to watch.

    We haven't seen a congressional race in Ohio flip since 2012. The map was drawn very deliberately to make sure that there are 12 Republicans and four Democrats. And so to see that there might be a flip here would be really extraordinary.

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