Another Round Of Voting Changes

For years, Ohio voting procedures seemingly did not change. The voting booth was a huge metal machine, where you pulled a lever to close a curtain behind you, used toggles to expose checkmarks that reflected your votes on candidates and ballot issues, and then when you were done pulled the lever in the opposite direction to register your votes with a satisfying thunk and open the curtain again. But those huge machines are long gone, and now it seems like the procedures changes with every election.

Yesterday’s election featured another set of changes. Our polling place was switched, from the Schiller Park Rec Center to the Livingston United Methodist Church, and the procedures were different, too. When you showed your driver’s license and signed in–on a touch pad with a stylus, rather than the big voter roll volumes that used to be used–you were handed a manila folder that contained a slip of paper and a long, thin sheet that fell on the dividing line between paper and cardboard.

One of the polling station volunteers then led you to an electronic voting machine, took the slip of paper from your folder and scanned it at the machine to register your precinct, and then inserted the long rectangular piece into the machine before leaving. It was up to the voter to then activate the machine, go through the ballot and use the push buttons on the screen to indicate your votes, and review the ballot before pushing another button to finally confirm the votes on candidates and issues. At that point the machine printed the votes on the long sheet and spit it back out, and the voter put the sheet into their manila folder, walked to another poll worker, and followed their instructions to insert the sheet into a scanning machine. Only then did the voter get the treasured sticker–also featuring a new design this year, if I recall correctly–indicating that they had voted.

I believe this is the first time I’ve used the new electronic machines, and am confident that I’ve never been given a manila folder before. I’m sure the tweaks to the voting procedures are an attempt to hit that sweet spot that allows voters to use electronic processes to register their decisions quickly but also generates some kind of meaningful paper record that can be used in the event of any recount or claim of voting improprieties. And I suspect that the manila folders were used to permit any worried voters to maintain ballot privacy during the short walk between the voting machine and the scanner. (Somewhere in Franklin County, you can probably buy used manila folders pretty cheaply today.) It’s all part of the process of constant improvement as voting moves from those colossal old metal machines to the modern electronic era.

I’m happy to report, by the way, that Columbus Issue 7, the bogus “green energy” initiative that would have raided the city budget to the tune of $87 million, got crushed at the polls yesterday. The supporters of Issue 7 apparently expected that, because last week they submitted a new petition to the city, this time seeking $107 million. That’s the price of living in a free country, where we get to go to the polls, experience the new voting procedures, cast our ballots, and get that sticker that we can proudly display so everyone we see knows we’ve done our part,

Grass Roots And Telephone Poles

We’ve got an election coming up next Tuesday, and recently the notice shown in the photo above has appeared on some of the telephone poles around German Village. The signs encourage people to vote against Issue 7, the dubious so-called “clean energy” initiative that would have the effect of transferring control over millions of dollars of City of Columbus funds to shadowy groups and blowing a hole in the city budget.

I’ve previously noted my opposition to Issue 7, so I agree with the sign’s sentiment. But what’s also interesting to me is the whole idea of using signs on telephone poles as a means of communication in a political campaign. It’s a pretty labor-intensive method, because someone had to go to each of those telephone poles and staple the signs into the wood. In some suburban neighborhoods, where the car culture prevails, that would be wasted effort because motorists rolling by on their way to work or to run errands aren’t going to notice small signs on telephone poles, much less stop to read what they say.

But German Village is different. It’s very much of a walker’s neighborhood, where a pedestrian like me will notice a sign flapping on a telephone pole, become curious, and stop to read it. I’m guessing that I’m not alone in doing so. In this neighborhood, at least, sheets of paper on telephone poles are an effective method of communication, and people who live hear regularly use the telephone poles to communicate about lost cats and dogs, yard sales, and other matters. Whoever took the time to go around our streets and staple-gun their notices understood that aspect of our neighborhood and figured that if they got just a few passersby to stop and read about why Issue 7 should be defeated, it is worth the effort.

We’ve all heard of “grass roots” politics, and seasoned campaigners will tell you that all politics is local and that you need to understand your audience to communicate effectively. This election’s anti-Issue 7 telephone pole campaign in German Village is a good illustration of the merit of that observation.

Vote No On Issue 7

In recent years I’ve tried to avoid discussing politics in this blog, but Issue 7, which will be on the ballot in the City of Columbus in November, will have to be an exception to that rule of thumb. It’s an egregious example of misuse of the referendum process, misleading ballot language, and a crass attempt to divert City of Columbus funds into unknown pockets, all rolled into one ballot proposition. If you’re registered to vote in the City of Columbus on November 2, I urge you to get to the polls and vote “no” on Issue 7.

Issue 7 would require Columbus to create four funds–an Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Fund, a Clean Energy Education and Training Fund, a Minority Business Enterprise Clean Energy Development Fund and a Columbus Clean Energy Partnership Fund–and would require the city to redirect $87 million in city general funds to fund them. According to the city, two of the funds, worth $67 million, would be transferred to an unidentified group with no legislative oversight, and the removal of $87 million from the general fund would likely require significant cuts in other important city services. Columbus city leaders have spoken out against this attempt to put public funds into private hands and bypass budget processes–all of which could imperil the city’s overall financial health and its bond rating, at a time when Columbus, like other cities, is trying to deal with the many different consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Columbus Dispatch has also been outspoken about Issue 7, both in reporting on the checkered history of the issue and the lack of transparency about how the millions of dollars in public funds would be used, and by whom, and in editorializing on how the issue attempts to use “green energy” concepts to cover what the Dispatch editorial board calls a “grift.” The editorial describes Issue 7 as “a shameful attempt to confuse well-meaning voters and bilk Columbus out of money that should be used for critical services such as police and fire protection, trash collection, health services, and recreation and parks programs.”

And finally, Issue 7 is an example of an increasing problem in the American system, where standard processes in a representative democracy are being bypassed by ballot issues and referenda that have voters set policy and direct the expenditure of public funds, without the public hearings, scrutiny, and other elements of actions taken by our elected representatives that bring transparency and expertise to decision-making and public spending. And when the ballot issues contain language that obscures rather than enlightens, and seems consciously designed to mislead voters, the problem becomes even greater.

The election on November 2 is an off-year election, when turnout is likely to be small. The group behind Issue 7 no doubt hopes that most voters won’t go to the polls, and those that do will be uninformed about Issue 7 and think that the “green energy” and “clean energy” funds that it would create sound like good ideas, without realizing the true impact of the initiative.

Let’s not be fooled, folks! Let’s get to the polls on November 2 and vote “no” on Issue 7.