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10 things to know about Ohio's primary election next month

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published: February 18, 2016 11:11 AM

Columbus -- After months of campaigning by candidates and weeks of reminders about this week's registration deadline, Ohio's early voting period officially opened for most residents Feb. 17, with in-person and mail-in ballots available for about a month.

Turnout could be higher than normal. Some people may opt to switch their political party affiliation to vote for their candidate of choice. And marijuana won't be an issue of concern.

Here are 10 things you should know about the state's early voting period and next month's primary election:

1. The Basics: You can vote by mail or in-person between now and the day before Election Day.

Early in-person voting will be open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays through March 4, then from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. on March 7-11 (the last full week of early voting).

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You can also cast ballots on two Saturdays (March 5 and 12) from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., one Sunday (March 13) from 1-5 p.m., and on the March 14, the Monday before Election Day, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Mail-in ballots must be requested by noon on March 12 and postmarked by March 14 or dropped off in person at boards of elections on Election Day, by 7:30 p.m.

And a word of warning: If you request a mail-in ballot but don't use it and show up at your polling place on Election Day, you'll likely end up voting provisionally.

2. Date Change: The primary will take place a week later than usual, on March 15, thanks to a law change enacted last year. The move allowed Ohio to take advantage of Republican National Committee Rules that award delegates on a "winner-takes-all" basis.

3. Registrations: The deadline for new or updated registrations was Feb. 16.

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If you're new to the state and didn't submit your paperwork on time, you're probably out of luck.

If you already live in Ohio but moved since you last voted, you'll likely be given a provisional ballot, just to make sure you're not voting multiple times. But you'll have to visit the board of elections afterward to provide proof of your address.

If you submitted a new or updated registration on Feb. 16, you can check your status on the secretary of state's website (MyOhioVote.com).

"It should be updated very quickly in the system," said Josh Eck, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.

4. Who's on the Ballot, Major Parties, Statewide: There are three Democrats seeking Ohioans' votes for the party nomination: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente.

There are 11 Republicans on the list, too, though only six (Gov. John Kasich, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) remain active in the race.

In the U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Rob Portman faces challenger Don Elijah Eckhart.

There are three Democrats vying for that seat: former Gov. Ted Strickland, Cincinnati City Councilman PG Sittenfeld and Cincinnati resident Kelli Prather.

There's also one contested primary among Ohio Supreme Court races: Appeals Court Judge Pat Fischer (1st District) faces Appeals Court Judge Colleen O'Toole (11th District).

5. Who's on the Ballot, Other Parties: There's one representative of the Green Party on the statewide primary ballot: Joseph DeMare is running for U.S. Senate.

A few others are running for Congress -- James Condit Jr. in District 8, Joe Manchik in District 12 and Dennis Lambert in District 15.

6. Anybody Else?: There are lots of other races that will be decided at the local level, including Ohio's congressional and Statehouse seats, county commissioners and other county officials, judges at all levels in Ohio, some members of the state board of education and Republican and Democratic state and county central committees.

7. Who's Not on the Ballot: Nonpartisan or independent candidates or those planning write-in campaigns won't appear (their deadlines for filing for the November ballot are later).

Also, none of the five main statewide officeholders (governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and treasurer) will be decided this year. You'll have to wait until 2018 for those contests.

8. Partisanship: If you want to vote for president and other posts, you'll have to declare your political party.

You're welcome to switch sides of the aisle, but you'll be listed as your new party of choice until the next partisan primary.

9. No Statewide Issues: Though there was talk of desires to place congressional redistricting and other amendments on the primary ballot, voters won't be deciding any statewide issues.

There's still time for medical marijuana, drug pricing and other initiatives to qualify for the November general election, though.

10. Turnout: It's an even-year, presidential election with contested races, so turnout should be on the high side.

"There is a U.S. Senate race from Ohio and contentious primaries on both sides of the aisle," Eck said. "So we certainly expect there to be high interest among Ohio voters in participating."

In 2012, nearly 26 percent of voters cast ballots, down from 46 percent in 2008 and 33 percent in 2004, according to statistics compiled by the secretary of state's office.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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