By the numbers: nearly 80% of Portage County voters aren’t Republicans or Democrats – this election, at least

Voters in Brimfield cast their ballots in the Nov. 2, 2021 election. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

In a political climate marked by increasing discord, most Portage County residents have opted out, at least for primary polling.

The Portage County Board of Elections reports that as of early March, the overwhelming majority of the county’s 108,250 voters — 84,456, to be specific — identify with neither party. The board currently reports 14,780 registered Republican voters and 9,016 registered Democrats.

That’s higher than the proportion of independent voters statewide: According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, as of March 6, there were 5,651,913 unaffiliated voters, 1,359,866 registered Republicans, and 1,017,525 registered Democrats.

Unaffiliated voters receive “issues-only” ballots, county Board of Elections Director Faith Lyon said. If issues-only ballots are not available, meaning there is no issue affecting the precinct in which an unaffiliated voter resides, they don’t vote if they wish to remain unaffiliated, she said.

Voters can switch parties when they visit their polling sites, and then may switch again at the next primary election where party-affiliated candidates appear on the ballot. In Portage County, it appears that some people are doing exactly that:

In the May 3, 2022, primaries there were 81,848 registered nonpartisan voters, 8,397 registered Republicans and 16,166 registered Democrats. Of that total, 422 unaffiliated voters actually cast ballots, as did 15,116 Republicans and 8,527 Democrats, for a total voter turnout of 22.62%.

In 2020, the last presidential election year, there were 81,205 nonpartisan voters registered for the primaries, 9,975 Republicans and 13,924 Democrats in Portage County. Of that total, 1,829 unaffiliated voters, 8,837 Republicans and 14,158 Democrats actually cast ballots, as did 61 Libertarians. Total voter turnout? 23.68%.

Board of Elections Deputy Director Theresa Nielsen characterized this year’s absentee voting as slow, but not unexpected.

“People don’t generally turn out for primaries,” she said.

As of March 3, the board had received 98 nonpartisan ballots, 1,358 Republican ballots and 1,224 Democrat ballots.

Absentee ballots must be received at the Board of Elections office before the polls close on Election Day or be postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service no later than the day before Election Day and be received by the Board of Elections no later than four days after the election.

A secure drop box is available outside the county administration building.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.