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Local election offices worry about preparing for primary as redistricting battle continues

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 29, 2022

RAVENNA, Ohio — Fear of mistakes, missed vacations and soaring overtime costs have election leaders worrying about a growing backlog of work at their local election offices as redistricting battles continue in Columbus.

On Monday, the Ohio Redistricting Commission narrowly voted to pass slightly changed versions of Statehouse district maps previously rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court as unconstitutional. As a result, the commission ignored independent mapmakers they had hired to reconcile the issue.

The latest showdown comes as early voting in Ohio’s primary is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

In Portage County, Board of Elections Deputy Director Terrie Nielsen told News 5 her team is keeping busy, but is still unable to complete all their necessary prep work needed ahead of the primary.

“We’re at the point where it's going to be very difficult to impossible if there are any more changes,” she said. “We’re at this point in time just waiting. If we get a directive that says ‘here’s some new maps that you haven’t seen before,’ then I think at that point all bets are off. ”

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Portage County Board of Elections Deputy Director Terrie Nielsen shows News 5 the difficulties in processing new maps when it comes to county elections.

Right now, Nielsen said her team has programmed a ballot, proofed it, and performed accuracy tests on it, but that ballot does not include any races involving the Ohio General Assembly or state central committees.

One week ago, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose released a statement that detailed how his office directed Ohio’s county boards of elections to prepare for the start of early voting on April 5 by removing candidates for the General Assembly and state central committees from the May 3 ballot.

News 5 political analyst Tom Sutton serves as a political science professor at Baldwin Wallace University.

More than likely, what we'll see are two primaries, the one in May and then one possibly in June that would feature these state legislative races,” Sutton said.

News 5 spoke with election leaders all across Northeast Ohio expressing frustration over this redistricting process.

After two years where their industry was attacked over false claims of ballot integrity and fraud, some worry about the toll a prolonged primary can have on election workers.

“We’ve been on an election treadmill since March 17, 2020,” Lake County Board of Elections Director Ross McDonald said. “Are we considering the human impact of election administrators?”

McDonald told News 5 he’s preparing for his team to administer two primaries, despite not having the budget for two primaries.

Elsewhere, other election offices chimed in on the ongoing delays.

“Cuyahoga County Board Elections has been working diligently and adjusting as we deal with all the recent uncertainty,” Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Deputy Director Anthony Kaloger said in a statement to News 5. “We look forward to receiving final decisions from the Courts and General Assembly so that our preparations for the upcoming election can continue to move forward.”

“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster these past few weeks,” Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said. “We’re moving forward as best as we can.”

“In a word – frustrating,” Ashtabula County Board of Elections Director John Mead said when describing the impact of redistricting. “We’re doing everything in our power to anticipate the next move.”

“It’s a bit more of a busy season than we’d normally expect,” Summit County Board of Elections Deputy Director Pete Ziegler said.

Back in Portage County, Nielsen said her team worked through this past weekend and will do so again this weekend and as long as they need to get the job done and be fully prepared for the upcoming Ohio Primary.

Rob Nichols, a spokesperson for LaRose, provided News 5 with the following statement regarding the preparations for the upcoming primary:

“Despite the challenges, the Secretary is confident that Ohio’s bipartisan election professionals will provide for yet another secure, accessible, and accurate election that Ohioans deserve and have come to expect," he said.
"Ohio’s elections officials can do this because they’ve done it before. Despite the impossible odds and headwinds they faced in the 2020 election, our professional boards of elections delivered the most successful election in Ohio history.”