Every year a growing number of voters are opting to cast their ballots early, according to the Washington County Board of Elections where requests for at least 1,300 mailed ballots had been received by Friday afternoon for the 2011 general election.
"We've also had more than 360 people who have already voted in person at the election board office since early voting began on Oct. 4," said election board executive director Peggy Byers.
She said the percentage of early voters either mailing in ballots or voting in person has increased every election from around 10 percent a few years ago to 35 percent in this year's May primary election.
Byers said some voters were concerned that the early voting timeframe could have been cut short this year due to House Bill 194, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in June.
"We had quite a few people who were anticipating early absentee voting. Some had plans to go south for the winter months and would be leaving before election day," Byers said.
House Bill 194 would overhaul the state's current election law, including, among other changes, the date when voters can begin casting early absentee ballots. That meant early voting for this year's general election would have started today, instead of Oct. 4.
At a glance
Voters can call the Washington County Board of Elections at 374-6828 to get an absentee ballot application mailed.
Voters can also visit the board of elections office at the county courthouse to fill out an application in person, or they can go to the Web site, www.electionsonthe.net/oh/washington/index.htm
Nov. 5-Applications by mail for absentee ballots must be received by boards of elections by noon (three days before the general election).
Nov. 7-Absentee ballots may be voted in person at boards of elections until close of regular business hours (day before the general election).
Nov. 8-Absentee ballots, returned in person, must be received by the boards of elections by close of polls.
Nov. 18-Absentee ballots returned by U.S. Mail from within the United States must be postmarked no later than Nov. 7 and received by boards of elections by this date to be counted (10 days after general election).
Nov. 18-Out-of-country uniformed services or overseas ballots must be received by boards of elections by this date to be counted (10 days after the general election).
Source: Washington County Board of Elections
The law would have become effective Sept. 30, but opponents of HB 194 gathered enough signatures from Ohio voters by Sept. 29 to petition the legislation to the 2012 general election ballot. Until then elections will be held under the current law which allows early voting a month prior to election day.
Ron Mason, Sr., of Belpre said not knowing when early absentee voting would begin wasn't a big concern for him.
"I'm disabled, so I vote absentee every year," he said. "I wasn't really concerned-I still would have received my absentee ballot. But I do like the extra time to go online and research the candidates before I make a choice."
Little Hocking residents David and Joyce Davis also vote early each year.
"We go to Florida in October, so we vote early," David said. "If we had to wait until today we still would have had enough time to cast our ballots. But I think it's better to be able to vote a month early."
Kelly Booth of Marietta said being able to vote an early absentee ballot is convenient.
"It's easier for us to vote that way, and we learn about candidates and issues online," she said. "I don't think waiting until later to cast our ballot would be a problem, but the earlier we can vote the better."
Lowell resident Mary Hinton said this is the first year she has cast an absentee ballot.
"We've already sent our ballots in," she said. "We're going on a trip this year, but we normally vote on election day right here in Lowell.
"It's nice to be able to vote early, but I doubt we'll do it again next year," Hinton added. "We just know some of the local candidates and wanted to be sure to vote for them this year."
She said there was plenty of literature about area candidates and issues available at the Lowell Octoberfest this year.
Molly Varner chairs Washington County's Democratic Party.
"Democrats support making sure people have as many opportunities as possible to vote in every election," she said. "We think (HB 194) is an attempt to limit voting. Early voting has been a real boon for people with medical issues or those who cannot get to the polls on election day.
"I can't imagine people not having as many opportunities as possible to vote," she said.
But county Republican Party Chairwoman Marilyn Ashcraft has concerns about voting too early.
"I don't think people should be voting too soon," she said. "I'm not sure people get to know enough about candidates to make a good decision, especially on the ballot issues."