The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Helen Sheehan knows where Cuyahoga County Democratic voters live. A former executive director of the county Democratic Party, she has spent years pouring over voter lists publicly available from the Board of Elections – and she knows how to use them. 

For months, Sheehan, a retired nurse, has been quietly tapping relationships and the lists to rally voters against Issue 1, the proposed state constitutional amendment on the Aug. 8 ballot that would require a supermajority of 60% of statewide votes, rather than a simple majority of 50% plus one, to change the constitution. 

She and volunteers, political action committees and other groups have been mailing literature and absentee ballot request forms to Democrats and left-leaning independents, and they are closely tracking everyone who requests a ballot to ensure they return them. 

“It’s all ones and zeros to me,” she said. “So, I’ve identified my ones and I got rid of the zeroes. I know who my targets are, and I can look for all the ones who have returned their absentee requests versus those who weren’t in the target. So it’s all just math from this point on.” 

It’s critical work for those on either side of the issue because state and county political parties are no longer allowed to mail absentee ballot request forms to voters. Generally speaking, support for Issue 1 breaks along party lines, meaning the parties are mostly just targeting their respective backers. 

Sheehan’s work is partly responsible for the spike in absentee ballot requests and early voting now being seen in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, where the figures for requests and earlier in-person voting are outpacing figures in last August’s election and recent off-year primaries.  

“I have to say, I am proud that we have helped to boost those numbers up,” Sheehan said. 

Cleveland, which has had lackluster turnout in a number of recent elections, is not being ignored, Sheehan said. Of the 65,000 targeted voters on her list, nearly half live in Cleveland. 

As of late this week, election figures showed Cleveland leading the county in requests for absentee ballots and in-person voting. Figures also show that Sheehan’s other targeted cities–which include Parma, Euclid, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and Lakewood–were responding to her efforts.  

“I am very encouraged by what I’m seeing with the increase, and the Republicans are not pulling as swiftly as what the Democrats are,” she said.  

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Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.