Problems at the polls in Hamilton County as well as an accident near the entrance of a polling location just east of Hillsboro caused delays in the reporting of preliminary election results Tuesday evening in Highland County.
Highland County Elections Administrator Steve Witham said the local board of elections received a directive from Secretary of State Jon Husted at 7:27 p.m. Tuesday instructing counties not to release election results until 9 p.m., after a lawsuit was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The lawsuit resulted in an order to keep voting sites in Hamilton County only open until 9 p.m.
Hamilton County was using new polling machines and experienced problems due to a lack of training for the poll workers, plus the voters’ unfamiliarity with the machines, according to reports.
Witham said that did not cause a delay in the time the final unofficial results were released shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, but it did cause delays in local preliminary results showing figures from early reporting precincts being posted as planned at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
What was more frustrating to local election officials though, Witham said, was that Highland County could not get an extension of voting hours at a polling location at Hills and Dales on U.S. Route 50, just east of Hillsboro, after an accident at the entrance to the location shut down U.S. 50 traffic in both directions.
That accident took place at 6:46 p.m., according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and U.S. 50 was still not open when the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.
Witham said Highland County Board of Elections members discussed what to do as soon as they heard there had been an accident at the Hills and Dales site. He said the board members were in unanimous agreement to extend voting hours at that polling site.
But when the board contacted a liaison at the secretary of state’s office, Witham said they were told they couldn’t extend the hours. Then the board contacted Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins, who Witham said was in favor of extending the hours at that one site.
“Because if voters were stuck in traffic due to the accident, technically they were in line,” Witham said, noting that voters in line when the polls close at 7:30 p.m. are still allowed to vote.
Then, Witham said, Collins was told that the board would have to get a court order to keep the location open past 7:30 p.m. By that time it was too late, plus the election board was dealing with the problems from Hamilton County, as well as its own system temporarily crashing.
“We all wanted to leave the location open and let all those people go in and vote, but we were told we couldn’t,” Witham said. “Hamilton County had been allowed to stay open, so what was it going to hurt to leave us open? It was a very frustrating situation, but it was taken out of our hands.”
Some voters parked on side roads or at the Hamilton Insurance location on U.S. 50 just west of the accident site and walked to the polling location, according to Witham.
“That’s what was frustrating for us,” Witham said. “As a local board of elections we know what’s going on in our precincts. The state doesn’t. I think in a situation like that it should be the local board’s call.”
The accident happened when Jerry Sears, 70, of Hillsboro, was attempting to turn left in a 1950s era Chevrolet out of the Hills and Dales facility and pulled into the path of a Jeep vehicle driven by Charles Johnson, of Hillsboro, who was westbound on U.S. 50, according to the OSHP’s Wilmington Post.
Four people were transported by life squad from the scene of the accident – one from Sears’ vehicle and three from the Jeep – with nonlife-threatening injuries, according to the state patrol.
Sears was cited for failure to yield the right of way when turning left.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.