More than 800 voters in Highland County have either cast early votes or requested absentee ballots so far for the 2015 General Election, including 409 Republicans, 153 Democrats and 277 non-affiliated voters or voters with smaller parties recognized in Ohio such as the Constitution, Green, Libertarian or Socialist parties.
In the city of Hillsboro, 303 ballots had been cast or requested by early afternoon Friday, including 129 Republicans, 82 Democrats and 92 non-affiliated voters or members of another party.
A full 17 percent of early votes in Hillsboro have come from people living in nursing homes or extended care facilities, according to addresses given by voters. Among those voters are 13 Democrats, 8 Republicans and 31 non-partisans or members of other parties.
There are 4,121 registered voters in Hillsboro, including 852 Republicans, 336 Democrats and 2,933 non-affiliated or other party members. So far, about 7 percent of all registered voters in the city have cast or requested early ballots.
The Hillsboro ballot features a high-profile mayoral race between incumbent Republican Drew Hastings and Democratic challenger Pam Limes.
While more Republicans have voted than Democrats in the city of Hillsboro, Democrats seem particularly motivated to vote early this year, percentage-wise. More than 24 percent of registered Democrats in the city have already cast ballots, compared to 15 percent of Republicans. Just 3 percent of the city’s non-affiliated or other party members have cast ballots so far.
Across Highland County as a whole, 6 percent of registered Republicans have voted or requested ballots, as have 14 percent of Democrats, and just slightly more than 1 percent of all other voters. Overall, only about 3 percent of all registered voters across Highland County have cast or requested ballots so far.
According to the latest statistics available from the Highland County Board of Elections, there are 26,537 registered voters in Highland County, including 6,300 Republicans, 1,046 Democrats and 19,191 non-affiliated or other party members.
Steve Witham, elections administrator for the local election board, said Friday that in-person, in-office voting has been particularly heavy this year.
“That’s good because it saves the county money from having to mail ballots,” he said.
Witham said election board workers are gearing up for the home stretch beginning next week, when the last 9 or 10 days before Election Day tend to be the busiest for early voting.
Asked if he could tell who was winning any of the races so far, Witham replied with a laugh, “If I could I would, but I have no clue.”
In-person early voting in Highland County takes place in Hillsboro at the board office at 1575 N. High St., Suite 200.
The expanded hours for in-person early voting next week will be:
• 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on each weekday (Monday through Friday).
• 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Saturday before Election Day
• 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Sunday before Election Day
• 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Monday before Election Day.
Other races across Highland County include township trustees, township fiscal officers, school board seats, various village council and mayoral contests, and a handful of local options.
There are contests for mayor in Leesburg, Mowrystown and the village of Highland, as well as a three-candidate race for mayor of Lynchburg.
In Lynchburg, incumbent mayor Gary Jones is being challenged by Terry Burden and Tim Heizer, a former Lynchburg police chief.
In Mowrystown, former Hillsboro City Council member Bonnie Parr is challenging longtime mayor Frank Terwilliger. In Leesburg, Mayor Danny Daulton is not seeking reelection. Wendy Holliday and Freddie Snyder are vying for that seat.
In the village of Highland, Jeremy Kibbey and Henry Smith are seeking the mayor’s post. But in Sinking Spring, no one filed for open seats for mayor and two council spots.
Outside of the Hillsboro mayoral race, another factor accounting for the interest in this year’s elections are three statewide ballot initiatives, which Ohio’s secretary of State said was leading to a bigger early voting turnout than in 2013, the last election that did not feature statewide, congressional or presidential candidates, sometimes called “off-year” elections.
Across Ohio, the state’s elections chief said Thursday that more than 61,000 Ohioans have cast their ballots ahead of next month’s election and nearly 223,000 absentee ballots have been requested.
Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office said that as of last week, about 27,000 had voted in person and about 34,000 cast ballots by mail.
Voters will decide the fate of three statewide ballot initiatives on Election Day. One would legalize marijuana for medical reasons and recreational use, while another seeks to prevent monopolies from being inserted into the state constitution. A separate measure would overhaul how state legislative districts are drawn.
More than 1,700 local issues also are on the ballot.
Husted, who was in Hillsboro on Thursday, said fewer than 333,000 voters cast absentee ballots in 2013, when there were no statewide questions on the ballot. This year’s final early voting tally is likely to surpass that number, officials said.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary. The Associated Press contributed to this story.