Voters Cast Ballots in Record Numbers in Belmont County

Record-breaking levels have been reached in Belmont County in this presidential election year. For the first time ever, voters will have an opportunity to vote on a Sunday. And the number of absentee ballot requests has surpassed the previous record year in 2008.

To comply with the secretary of state’s ruling, the voting booth in the lobby of the Belmont County Board of Elections will be open today from 1-5 p.m. for voters to cast their ballots in person. A total of 1,850 had voted there as of Thursday. “That doesn’t include the hundreds of voters who came in to pick up their ballots and took them home to fill out,” explained Kelly McCabe, assistant director of the board of elections.

McCabe noted a total of 14,523 absentee ballot requests already have been processed by the office, which exceeds the total number that were recorded during the presidential election year in 2008 when absentee requests reached 14,128.

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It won’t be the voters registered as Democrats and Republicans who will decide the outcome of Tuesday’s general election in Belmont County – it’ll be the many thousands of those voters who have not established a political preference for this year’s election.

Of the 49,629 registered voters in the county, 31,510 of them are listed as voters with no political party affiliation because they did not vote in a primary election which would have established their party preference.

Since there is not an independent political party in the state, those voters are just considered non-party affiliated. There are two candidates listed as non-party in the race for Belmont County commissioner on the Tuesday’s ballot. Both entered the race and filed their candidacy petitions after the March primary election.

Although the number of voters registered as Democrat more than doubles the Republican registrants, their numbers lag far behind the non-party voters. The Democrat population totals 12,095 and the Republicans, 6,015. There are nine voters registered with the various other political parties such as Libertarian, Constitution, Green or Socialist.

Elections board director Bill Shubat is anticipating substantially more than one-half of the county’s registered voters will cast ballots on Tuesday. “I figure the turnout will range from 30,000 to 32,000.” That seems to be a pretty safe prediction, considering the early voting and the absentee balloting will come close to reaching half that mark.

The only non-party candidates on the ballot exclusive of the judicial race, which is always non-partisan, are Martins Ferry residents Doug Longenette and Jerry Echemann, who are attempting to unseat incumbent commissioner Matt Coffland.

Coffland, a Shadyside resident completing his first four-year term on the commission, boasts his record of bringing a sewage disposal system to Neffs, completion of the Mt. Victory road improvement project, bringing new business into the county and thereby lowering the unemployment rate, lowering the county debt, and numerous other accomplishments.

If re-elected, Coffland said his hope is “to continue progressive planning and an aggressive approach to job creation and economic development for Belmont County.”

Longenette, director of human resources at the United Dairy, where he has been for 20 years, is making his first bid for public office. Referring to the anticipated influx of jobs and businesses as a result of the oil and gas drilling operations, Longenette feels his management and business skills will be a great asset when that happens. “I want the county to be ready,” he declared. “I don’t feel we are prepared for what is about to happen.”

Echemann, a retired 30-year television news reporter now employed by the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino & Racetrack, has the county senior citizens as his primary concern. “I want to get things done for the senior citizens. I have visited all of the senior centers and have a good handle on what those needs are.”

In the race for Belmont County sheriff, two candidates with decades of law enforcement experience are locked in a heated race to become the county’s top law enforcement officer and fill the vacancy to be created at the end of this year by the departure of Sheriff Fred Thompson.

Dick Flanagan of Bellaire pulled an upset in the March primary election when he gained the Democrat nomination by defeating Thompson in his bid for re-election and is now putting his 17 years of experience on the line to claim the sheriff’s post.

Now a lieutenant with the Bellaire Police Department, Flanagan has centered his campaign on the need for more “leadership, integrity, trust, and accountability in the sheriff’s office.” Flanagan feels his service on Bridgeport and Martins Ferry police departments, as well as Bellaire, “has put me on the inside track with local police departments in the county. I’m also on the inside track with the feds.” He was one of the founding members of the Belmont County Drug Task Force.

Dave Lucas is making his second bid for sheriff. After almost 28 years of service with the sheriff’s department, Lucas retired in 2007 with the intention of seeking the Democratic nomination for sheriff. But with three candidates in the running, the vote was split and Thompson regained the nomination and was unopposed in the general election.

Lucas admitted at the time that he was hoping for just a two-man race – himself and Thompson. So to possibly ensure such a race the next time, Lucas switched political allegiance and became a Republican candidate. “I’m my own person and that hasn’t changed,” Lucas commented about his party switch. “I believe strongly that the election should come down to a one on one contest. Let the people chose who is the best candidate.” That two-man race is now set for Tuesday, except Lucas will not be facing the incumbent sheriff.

Starting his law enforcement career with the Barnesville Police Department, Lucas joined the sheriff’s and among other accomplishments was a founding member of the Belmont County Drug Task Force. He rose to the rank of major prior to his retirement. “I did my job. Now I’d like to give something back to the county.”

All other Democrat officeholders on Tuesday’s ballot are unopposed in their bids for re-election.

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Two key countywide issues are on the ballot – one that would provide funds for purchasing new equipment and upgrading the 911 system and the other a renewal levy to maintain the financial level for providing services to the county’s senior citizens.

This is the second attempt to get the 911 levy adopted. It went down to defeat by a narrow margin last year when it was proposed as a continuing levy. The measure on Tuesday is for a five-year period and not for an indefinite period. The levy would generate $1.1 million annually that would be used to purchase new mobile radios and update the radio communications center.

The senior services levy is a one-mill renewal which would not cause an increase in current tax bills. It is one of three levies currently in effect to operate the seniors program which is in the process of being revised for the second time in a little over a year. The Belmont County commissioners are in the process of taking over operation of the senior program from the Belmont County Department of Jobs and Family Services, which took over the program in 2011.

Nineteen other issues are on the ballot from the various municipalities in the county. Bridgeport has two levies, both renewals. One is for three mills for five years for current expenses and the other is two mills for five years for current expenses.

Shadyside has a new four-mill levy for a continuing period to establish the OR&W Fire District; Bellaire Local School District has a new 8.72 mills for five years for continued operations; Smith Township has three levies – two-mills renewal for five years for community center, four mills for five years for roads and bridges and four mills for five years for fire protection; St. Clairsville and Richland Township have two levies, one for five years for Memorial Park, and a five mills replacement levy for continuing period for Cumberland Trail Fire District.

Pease Township has three levies – one mill for a continuing period for roads and bridges; one mill for operating expenses, and a three mill replacement levy for continuing period for the Pease-Colerain Fire District; Belmont has a two-mill renewal for five years for current expenses; Bethesda has a local liquor option for VFW Post 9712; Jefferson County JVS has one mill for 10 years for purchasing building and improvements.

Buckeye Local School District has two mills for continuing period for permanent improvements; Yorkville has a 1.5 mills renewal for five years for current expenses; and Switzerland of Ohio Local School District has 2.5 mills for three years for improvements and equipment.

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Today is the day everyone will recover the hour of sleep lost way back in April. Turn clocks back one hour to get back on standard time and regain the extra hour. And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: