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Jefferson County adapts to mail-in election format

TALLYING — Jefferson County Board of Elections members Frankie DiCarlantonio, left, and Matt Parise, chairman, view unofficial results of Ohio’s primary election at the board office Tuesday night. The county reported a 24.24 percent turnout. -- Andrew Grimm

STEUBENVILLE — Faced with the challenge of an unconventional, all-by-mail election, local officials were pleased with the way Jefferson County voters responded with roughly 24.24 percent turnout reported unofficially Tuesday night.

“I’m very proud of the Jefferson County residents who did follow the rules and did what they needed to do to vote,” board of elections Chairman Matt Parise said. “Turnout could have been a lot worse considering the situation. I think, personally, that Jefferson County residents stepped up and really made their voice heard.

“I wish more would have done that, but considering the situation, I’m happy with what we saw.”

Some 11,308 ballots were counted Tuesday night out of 46,651 registered voters in the county.

Board member Frankie DiCarlantonio agreed with Parise’s assessment.

“Personally, I think the turnout can always be better,” he said. “Until the majority of people are voting, rather than the majority of people are not voting, it could be better. But, for the circumstances, primary elections we do normally expect low turnouts and with several changes to the dates and the process, I think the voters of Jefferson County did well.

“Overall I think the county responded well. Overall, along with everything else in their daily lives that have changed — standing in line to go to the store, standing 6 feet apart — I think this is just another part of the package of the coronavirus (challenges). I think voters understood and were responsive to it.”

DiCarlantonio said there were between 1,000 to 1,100 ballots still out. Ballots postmarked by Monday and received by May 8 can still be counted. Provisional ballots and those who had missing information can still return their ballots to be added to the official results.

“We kind of have to have the thinking that all of them could still be valid,” he said. “Until we hit May 8 or we find out they can’t be counted … those still could be active ballots.”

The board is scheduled to meet on May 14 to certify the results and certify independent candidates that filed by the deadline to do so.

Both noted that the rapidly changing details of the election provided challenges.

“When you have major changes like this, obviously you are going to have people who wanted to vote and didn’t, or did it the wrong way,” Parise said. “I am all about making sure that everybody’s voice is heard. Democrat, Republican, independent, I don’t care who you are, you have a right to vote in America and you should be able to express that.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened, but it’s nobody’s fault. I can’t blame anybody for what happened, it’s the situation we’re all living in right now. We all want a hair cut right now, too. But, it’s the situation we’re all living in right now and I think we stepped up.”

DiCarlantonio noted the county reacted to the hand it was dealt.

“On a personal note, I think there are some things that could have been done differently, but this was an act of the Ohio Legislature,” he said. “We could not deviate from the process, we are held to the laws they enact and the processes that are sent to us in directives from the Ohio secretary of state.

“Personally, I think some things could have been done better, but under the circumstances, in order to conclude this election quickly, I think this was the best way to do it at the moment.

“I appreciate the voters of Jefferson County and the state of Ohio for being receptive of it, for following the process and working with us as we worked with them to make sure their vote was counted.”

Prior to the original election day of March 17, Board of Elections Director Diane Gribble projected a 28 percent voter turnout.

“We knew the turnout was going to be lower because of the situation, the change in rules and so on,” Parise said. “It really didn’t surprise me.”

He said the employees at the county board office put in a lot of work to adapt to Tuesday’s unorthodox election.

“I know for a fact this office stepped up,” Parise said. “I’m very proud of the work that our board did, and that the employees did to make sure that everyone’s voice could be heard and everyone who wanted to vote had the opportunity to do that.”

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