MARIETTA - Early voting started Tuesday in Ohio - an option Buckeye State voters have had since 2006. But while the process has made it a bit more convenient to cast a ballot, early voting hasn't necessarily translated into more voter participation overall.
"The last presidential election was 2008, and over 5.7 million ballots were cast statewide, but just over 5.7 million votes were also cast during the 2004 (presidential) election," said Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted's office.
He said there were about 50,000 more votes cast in 2008, but the early voting process is more about convenience than gaining more registered voter participation.
"It's a way to help relieve voters from having to wait in long lines on election days," McClellan explained.
Violet Jenkins of Marietta said she and husband, Robert, are among those who vote early at the Washington County Courthouse.
"It's a lot easier because we don't have to stand in line-I have arthritic legs," she said. "But if we forget to vote early we can still go out and vote at the polls on election day."
Little Hocking resident Robert Fury said he, too, casts an early ballot, voting absentee by mail.
"My wife is in a wheelchair and it's difficult for us to get out, so it's much easier for me to obtain a ballot and mail it back in before election day," he said.
Washington County's voter turnout in 2008 was 30,538, while in 2004 there were 30,494 voters who cast ballots.
"Early voting doesn't increase our registration, but it has made voting more accessible," said county elections director Tara Hupp.
She noted Ohio is the only state in this region that allows early voting more than a month before the general election.
"Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia and Pennsylvania do not offer early voting 35 days prior to the election," Hupp said.
Assistant Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes said West Virginians can vote at the county courthouse 10 days before the election, and at four centralized community locations five days before election day.
"The biggest advantage we've found for early voting is it eases the crowd on election day," he said.
Hupp said early in-person voting in Washington County will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Oct. 19 at the election board office in the county courthouse.
"Beginning Monday, Oct. 22, the office will be open for voting from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday until Nov. 1," she said. "The last day for voter registration is Tuesday, Oct. 9. The office will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. that day, and there will be early voting during those hours, too."
The elections office and courthouse will be closed Monday for Columbus Day.
Hupp said the main difference between voting at the polls on election day and early in-person voting at the courthouse is that early voters must fill out a ballot application before being issued a ballot.