Early voting in Franklin County, Ohio: quick, easy, and confidence-inspiring

A couple of months ago, as the early summer optimism that the Pandemic was easing off was replaced by massive spikes in infections, I ordered an absentee ballot. Despite fears that the post office would trash them or something, my ballot arrived promptly after the state released them. Then it sat on my desk for a week or two. After looking at it long enough I decided that I’d rather vote in person.

I consulted the rules about that and determined that (a) yes, I could do so; and (b) yes, my vote would be counted before election day as opposed to falling into some provisional ballot twilight zone. Then, this morning, I went to vote.

Franklin County, Ohio has only one early voting site, but it’s in a big strip center in a pretty easily accessible location on Morse Road, just off of Interstate 71. There’s a lot of free parking and reliable bus service to that part of town. It’s far more accessible for people — especially people without reliable transportation — than almost any other location would be and it does not present the “aw, I have to deal with all that downtown hassle” that would likely put off a lot of potential voters.

I chose to go this morning because it was pouring rain and I figured that there would be fewer people. I was wrong about that.

That’s the building to the west of the Board of Elections. The line wrapped around its far side, like so:

It seemed kind of daunting at first, but I was already there and wanted to vote, so I walked back to the end of the line.

Thankfully, the line moved fast. Like, really fast. As in, I didn’t really stand still even once. it was like a constantly walking, quickly-moving thing. As in, this quickly-moving:

That reporter interviewed me while I was in line, by the way — if I can find it when it airs I’ll include it here — but she and her cameraman had to walk and talk with me as I went through the line, as there was no stopping. Her questions were mostly about voter enthusiasm and whether the rain or the lines were discouraging. I told her that the past four years are enough to make anyone determined to vote and that, if I had to guess, most of the people waiting in the rain to do so were not doing so because they were happy with how the past four years have gone.

As I approached the door, I passed the absentee ballot drop box. My wife chose to stick with her absentee, so I dropped it off for her:

I got in the line at 10:42AM. I was here, at the entrance of the building, in 17 minutes:

Once inside things moved even more quickly.

If you were just a regular voter showing up there were at least 20 people seated at intake stations to check you in and give you your ballot, and they raised their hand for you to go to them almost the moment you walked in the door. From there you were sent to the voting machines and you were done. It was far quicker than what I’ve experienced at my local precinct on Election Day. Partially because the people inside were not one-day volunteers and they knew what they were doing. Partially because there were so many intake stations and voting machines.

For me it took a tad longer since I had already been issued an absentee ballot and thus had to go to a separate room for “replacement ballots.” Per those rules I linked above, I merely needed to tell them that I wasn’t voting absentee. Again, the place where I was sent presented almost no wait, as there were several poll workers there who knew what they were doing. I was not required to bring my absentee ballot with me, but I did anyway. The woman there marked it with a big red “X” to render it a spoiled ballot, issued me a new one, showed me the printout on their system which tracked them both and which assured me that I was properly voting. Though I did not ask, she said “with this ballot your vote will be counted today and tabulated the same as in-person votes on Election Day.” From the time I had gotten in line until the time she handed me my replacement ballot was only 22 minutes.

I went to a little table, filled out my paper ballot by hand with a pen, and fed it into a little scanner/printer/fax machine thingie. A little green light came on and the screen displayed a message saying “your ballot has been counted.” Right next to the machine was a stack of “I voted” stickers, to which I helped myself:

I could not be happier with how things went this morning. Despite a massive spike in early voting the Franklin County Board of Elections had the man-and-woman power, the resources, and the technology in place to deal with it. Despite the rain and the lines things moved quickly and easily. Despite all of the anxiety floating around about barriers to voting and uncertainty regarding whether ballots would be counted and when I have complete confidence that the system worked the way it is supposed to and that my vote counted.

All of these describe how the system should always work, everywhere. That it all came as a pleasant surprise to me is a damning indictment of the state of today’s voting infrastructure, undercut and under attack as it is by Republicans, to whose ethos voting and even democracy is increasingly and shamefully antithetical.

Today, at least, I feel confident in the way the Franklin County Board of Elections is running things. Here’s hoping that this results in an election which ushers people into office who have the will to make all voting this easy all over the country, always.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.