Confounding Ohio

I made a promise to myself to not post anything about politics until after the election is over next week, but I’m going to make an exception of sorts tonight.

3questionmarksI ran across this New York Times article about the Ohio Democratic Party’s efforts to try to get Ohio to flip from the Republican column — to my amazement, and the amazement of many, Ohio went heavily for Donald Trump in the election — to the Democratic column.  It’s an interesting treatment of how Ohio Democrats have tried to refine and revise their message to get Ohioans to vote Democratic this time.

What’s really of interest to me, however, isn’t the inside baseball talk about how the Democrats are tried to rebuild the winning coalition they used to have in Ohio, but the clear underlying message that resonates in virtually every paragraph of the piece:  none of the politicos really know exactly how Ohioans will react this year.  Whether Democrat or Republican, the political types will do their best and present what they hope is a winning message, but come Election Day they’ll hold their breath and keep their fingers crossed that they hit the target.  Until then, in Ohio, nobody really knows.

During my years of living in Ohio, we’ve had periods where Democrats dominated at the state levels, periods where Republicans dominated, and transitional periods between those two poles.  Whenever we reach one of the poles — Democrat or Republican — somebody declares that Ohio has now moved firmly and immutably into that camp, only to find Ohioans vote for the other party the next election.  In Ohio, conventional political wisdom often turns out to be conventional foolishness.

Call me a provocateur, but I think it’s great that Ohio’s unpredictability routinely confounds the political know-it-alls on both sides.  Maybe, just maybe, they don’t really know as much as they think.

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“Off Year”

This year it’s what they call an “off year” election in Ohio. That means we’re not voting for President, or Governor, or Senator, or Members of Congress, or any statewide offices.

I hate that phrase, because it suggests that certain elections are more important than others. I don’t think that’s the case. This year, for example, Columbus residents voted for City Council, the school board, other city offices, and some state court judges. If you believe, as I do, that politics is local, those are some pretty important positions, and I’m glad I had the chance to vote for my choices. And the “off year” elections often are the ones where supporters of this or that try to sneak ballot initiatives past listless voters. That’s not going to happen on my watch!

Some people say “off year” elections are too expensive, but I disagree with that, too. Expecting citizens to go to the polls at least once a year in November to exercise the most important right of all isn’t asking much, and it’s worth a few bucks. If people can’t get off their butts and vote, shame on them.

Long Lines In Ohio

When I got to my voting place at the Schiller Park Rec Center today, I found the longest line I’ve ever seen at a voting place.  This is just the end of it — inside it winds around the corridors of the building like a line for an amusement park ride, where you find a new section of line just as you think you’re getting to the the end.  Total wait time is estimated at 45 minutes to an hour — but everyone is waiting patiently and with good humor.

This is my first presidential election at this voting place, so I can’t make a turnout comparison to past election.  I can say that it makes me feel good to see so many people exercising their franchise, even in an election like this one.  Democracy is a wonderful thing!

“Special” Elections (Part II)

Columbus Issue 1 went down to a ringing defeat yesterday, but the big story in my book remains the turnout, the cost of the special election, and the potential for manipulation.  According to the Columbus Dispatch, 49,009 Columbus residents voted in the election, a pathetic turnout of about 9 percent — which, amazingly, is nevertheless higher than many elected officials, and the Franklin County Board of Elections, expected.

The special election cost about $1 million.  That means we spent about $20 to get each of those 49,009 votes — money that could have gone to other civic improvements.

I thought Issue 1 was a bad idea and voted against it, but I think putting important topics like charter amendments on the ballot in special elections where turnout is forecast to be less than 10 percent of voters is ridiculous.  If an issue is important enough to be put on the ballot, put it on the ballot on the customary voting day, when a reasonable turnout is expected — and we don’t have to incur a special expenditure of  a million dollars of tax revenues to boot.

For Issue One

The marijuana legalization-related initiatives on the Ohio ballot this year are getting all of the attention, while Issue One is getting almost no press.  That’s too bad, because it’s the issue that is most likely to have a positive long-term impact on Ohio and Ohio politics.

Issue One would change the way Ohio draws legislative districts.  Its goal is to make the drawing of districts more bipartisan and more inclusive of minority views and to specify criteria to be applied in creating new legislative maps.  The underlying concept is to prevent “gerrymandering” that produces bizarrely configured districts, creates “safe seats” that can be counted on to go to the candidate of one party or the other at all costs, and seeks to lock in long-term political control by one party or the other.

Restraining run-amok gerrymandering would be a good thing for everybody, for two simple reasons.  First, politicians who actually have to pay attention to getting elected are much more likely to be attuned to constituent service and listening to the voters.  Second, the existence of jigsaw puzzle-shaped districts where voters of one party have overwhelming majorities makes the only real election the primary for that majority party, and tends to produce candidates who are farther to one end or the other of the political spectrum than the Ohio body politic as a whole.  We don’t need more polarizing politicians, we need representatives who know that they will have to appeal to swing voters to attain office.  If Issue One can achieve that, it will have done future Ohioans an enormous service.

Voters often urge politicians to be bipartisan and to work together to solve problems, and Issue One demonstrates that that goal is achievable.  It’s supported by the Ohio Democratic Party and the Ohio Republican Party, business and labor, and voting groups.  I’m supporting it, too.  I want to reward the politicos who managed to get together on this issue, and also try to bring some reasonableness and common sense to redistricting.

Voters tend to vote against ballot issues.  The initiatives typically are long and hard to read, and busy people tend to reason that if things are OK now, whatever that agate type means just might make things worse.  I hope Ohioans resist that tendency in this instance and vote yes on One.

A Modest Proposal From Ohio

An Ohioan’s vote is worth more than a Californian’s, or a Mississipian’s, or a Rhode Islander’s.  The objective facts prove it.  Every presidential election, the candidates visit daily and their campaigns spend like drunken sailors trying to win our vote.  In the Other America, the campaigns aren’t spending bupkis.

Ohio isn’t just the Mother of Presidents, it’s the Chooser of Presidents.  We’re the swingingest of the “Swing States” — the Don Draper on that blue field of 50 stars.  Every presidential election, we tip the balance.  We know it, you know it, and the candidates know it.

So . . . why not let us capitalize on it?  After all, capitalism is the American Way.  Our Ohio votes are like rich mineral rights or another valuable form of property.  We therefore propose that any Ohio citizen who wishes to do so be allowed to sell their suffrage.  The Ohio Secretary of State would establish an eBay-like website where willing Ohio voters would auction the ability to determine the presidential vote on their early voting ballot to the highest bidder during the bidding period.  Some voters won’t want to participate.  Others will want to sell early and get whatever they can for their previously inalienable right.  Still others will want to hold out until the end, taking the risk that their vote might be worth a lot more — or, if the election is by then in the bag for one candidate or another, worth nothing at all.  All sales would be final and the ballots completed according to the terms of the sale and certified as such by the Secretary of State.

Many strong public policy considerations support this modest proposal.

First, this proposal would teach every American that voting has value.  Americans who live in those boring states where the outcomes of elections are foregone conclusions can, for once, know the heady rush of participating in an election where their specially acquired vote will count and might actually be decisive.  We Ohioans are proud people, but we generously are willing to peddle our franchises and allow our fellow Americans to have that experience — for a price.

Second, this proposal would introduce more certainty in the process.  Ardent supporters of candidates who happen to live in other states will no longer need to fret about which way Ohio is heading, or try to make sense of competing polling data.  Instead, they can just visit the Secretary of State website, check out the “votes for sale” section, and get a running tabulation of the current sold vote totals.

Third, this proposal would eliminate the unseemly spectacle of candidates flipping burgers, bagging groceries, and engaging in other demeaning conduct to win votes.  It would end the inefficient, indirect route of enticing votes, through vicious attack ads, cloying TV commercials, and paid campaign staff, and allow for more direct transactions between motivated buyers and willing sellers.  And, in the process, the reduction in negative ads and harsh mischaracterization of opposing positions might actually increase the chance for productive compromise after the election is over.

Fourth, this proposal would increase the percentage of Americans who actually vote.  In Ohio, the percentage of voters likely would approach 100 percent as even politically disinterested people decide to cash in on their votes.  The increased percentages would please those foreign observers who are monitoring our elections and are accustomed to the free elections in their country, where prevailing candidates routinely receive more than 95% of the vote.

Fifth, this proposal would provide a needed stimulus for Battleground Buckeyes and thereby help our economy.  Why should automakers, “green energy” companies, and asphalt manufacturers hog all the money?  Ohio voters who receive thousands of dollars for their swing votes will put that money right back into the marketplace.

Finally, voters in other states will look at the Ohio experience, see how much their vote can be worth, and perhaps reconsider their hard and fast, down-the-ballot support for one party or another.  New Yorkers, Texans, and South Carolinians might decide that there is value to listening to other viewpoints and letting their votes swing, every once in a while.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

Let The Foreign Observers Watch, And Learn

There’s been a bit of a tempest in a teapot recently about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sending monitors to watch this year’s presidential election.  The Attorney General in Texas has said that the OSCE monitors will face prosecution if they interfere with the election.  That hasn’t gone down well with the OSCE, which says that the U.S. has an obligation to allow monitors to observe the election.

Interestingly, the NAACP sent a letter to the head of the monitoring team urging the OSCE to place monitors in states — including Ohio — where the NAACP believes that voting ID laws and early voting restrictions have been adopted.  The letter urged that “monitors should be particularly vigilant about requests for, and acceptance of, identification of those seeking to vote, particularly if certain groups, such as racial minorities and young voters, are being targeted.”  The NAACP thinks that “election observation helps to improve our citizens’ trust and confidence in election results.”

Apparently the OSCE has been monitoring U.S. elections since 2002.  Who knew?  I’m sure that, like the NAACP, all Americans now feel a tremendous sense of comfort that foreign observers from well-established democratic bastions like Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are keeping an eye on those nefarious blue-haired ladies who staff our polling places.  Countries with such strong democratic traditions no doubt have a lot to teach the nation that is the oldest, and most successful, functioning democracy on Earth.

I don’t think we should threaten the OSCE observers with prosecution, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves:  representatives of other countries should be coming here to learn how free and fair elections are held, not to judge whether our processes stack up to whatever odd standards have been devised in the bureaucratic depths of an organization like the OSCE.  And, if the OSCE is one of those organizations that is largely funded by U.S. tax dollars, don’t expect us to pay for the useful education that the OSCE representatives will receive.