STARK COUNTY, Ohio — It is a bellwether county in a historically bellwether state. After decisively sending President Barack Obama to the White House twice, Stark County resoundingly flipped to President Donald Trump in 2016. With early voting in Stark County shattering records with a 400% increase in early voting, it is difficult to discern which way voters are leaning.
As of 10:30pm on Election Night, President Trump had secured an overwhelming majority of the vote, perhaps surpassing his margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
One week before the election, the long, snaking line around the Stark County Board of Elections building resembled the lines on days prior. Fervent supporters of both Biden and Trump flanked the building as well.
"Even if they are voting for Biden, I respect them. I'm highly impressed. I'm glad to see people able to speak their mind and do what they've got to do," said Joe Riffle, a supporter of Trump. "And I do hope that they vote for Trump but if they don't, that's their right."
According to the Stark County Board of Elections, a total of 71,131 voters had requested an absentee ballot as of October 27, one week before the election. In 2016, less than 39,000 voters had requested an absentee ballot. One week before the election in 2016, a total of 5,730 people had voted early and in-person, compared to 29,275 people casting their ballots early this election.
"It plays well for both. I think there's an incentive for both sides to get out the vote and to vote safely and on your own time as opposed to being forced to vote on one day," said Sam Ferruccio, the chairman of the Stark Co. Democratic Party and current county elections chairman. "Absentee and early voting, we'll probably be over 100,000 people by [Election Day]."
As for a possible explanation behind Stark County's penchant for flipping from one political party to the other, Ferruccio said it comes down to demographics. The county features an even mix between urban, rural, industrial and residential voting blocs.
Across town, the county democratic party handed out signs and flyers to supporters. Lifelong Democrat Steve Lewis said local democrats appear to have more energy and enthusiasm this go around.
"In 2016, I came down here to get a [Hillary] Clinton sign and there wasn't any. There wasn't a sign to be had here," Lewis said. "I thought that was a bad sign. I noticed in 2016, it seemed like 25 to 1 Trump signs to Clinton. This election, it looks about even. I just think Joe [Biden] is a nice guy and that's what we need right now. He's capable. He knows what needs to be done. He's not going to walk away from the pandemic and pretend that its gone when its raging."
News 5 called and sent emails to the Stark County Republican Party and Chairman Jeff Matthews. The calls and emails were not returned.
For the group of Trump supporters outside the county elections board building, the most important issues in this election are related to the economy.
"[Trump] doesn't want the tax hikes that Biden wants. They say it's going to hurt those that make over $200,000. That's [crap]," said Ryan Rider, a supporter of Trump. "If you think about it, if the big guy gets hurt, who is he going to take it out on? The little guy, that's us."