Early voting for March primary is now under way
Early voting for Ohio’s March 6 primary election kicked off yesterday.
But for many of Delaware County’s approximately 93,000 unaffiliated voters, they could show up at the polls with nothing to vote on. That is unless they are willing to sacrifice their political independence.
The county’s roughly 20,000 Republicans and 7,000 Democrats will not have the same problem. Nor will the 45 members of the Constitution Party, the 23 Green Party members, the 152 Libertarians or the county’s two Socialists.
Due to a combination of a lack of non-partisan local issues to vote on and Ohio’s semi-closed partisan primary system, voters that are not members of a political party may have to register with a party if they want to cast a ballot.
Of the county’s 143 voting precincts, 112 will have no issues to vote on, according to Delaware County Board of Elections Deputy Director Karla Herron.
Residents of the Berkshire, Trenton, Sunbury and Galena fire district will be presented with a renewal of a five-year, 2-mill levy and a 1-mill increase. Galena residents will decide a liquor issue for the Mudflats Bar and Grill. A small portion of Berkshire Township residents will vote on a liquor option for True North 607. And some Westerville City School residents that reside in Delaware County will determine the fate of a 6.71-mill emergency operating levy.
Voters will also be asked to select a Republican presidential candidate, both a Democrat and Republican candidate for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District and a Republican nominee to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Voter will also select two Republican nominees for county commissioner seats, a Republican nominee for the 67th District’s seat in the Ohio General Assembly and both a Democrat and Republican nominee for the seat in the 68th District.
The catch is, in Ohio, only registered members of a political party can vote in that party’s primary election.
But becoming a registered member of a political party is as simple as asking for a primary ballot for a political party when showing up to vote.
“You can show up that day and just request the ballot for that party,” said Herron.
There are some extenuating circumstances, however. For instance, were Ed Helvey, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, to show up and request a Republican ballot, his eligibility to vote in the primary could be challenged by poll workers. In this hypothetical scenario, before being allowed to vote, he would then be required to sign, under penalty of election falsification, a pledge stating that he agrees with the values of the Republican Party.
“If (poll workers) knows a voter is linked to the party they might have to sign something if they were indeed challenged,” Herron said.
But election falsification charges are rare. During the 2008 Democratic primary, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh encouraged Republicans to vote for current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an effort to prolong the contest in an strategy that he dubbed “Operation Chaos.” Then Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann’s office declined to prosecute any party switchers, saying it would be difficult to prove voter intent.
To Herron, Ohio’s semi-closed partisan primary system serves the state well because it allows political party members to choose their own nominees.
“It doesn’t meet all the needs and wants of some of our voters, but it works well for us,” she said.
“You should be able to say that you uphold those values if you want a decision within a party choice. I feel like it’s fair because really it is the party that’s making the decision.”
Craig Ramsay, a professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University, believes that Ohio’s primary system should be even more restrictive.
“This is a party election. The party is choosing it’s nominee,” he said. “I personally think you ought to be willing to show you’re some kind of partisan to vote in a party election.”
He would like to see Ohio move toward a closed primary system, in which voters would be required to register with a party up to a month in advance of an election.
“That’s such an incredibly superficial version of being a Republican or Democrat,” he said of voters’ ability to declare themselves a member of one of the two major political parties on primary election day.
“I say unless they are really committed to the party, maybe they ought not to be able to vote until the general election.”
So far, requests for absentee ballots are down compared to past elections years. Normally, Herron said, about 2,000 voters request absentee ballots. This year, under 600 have requested absentee ballots. Monday morning, just five voters showed up at the polls to cast early ballots.
Herron believes confusion over the fact that last year’s two primaries were scheduled before state lawmakers came together and agreed on a single date has played a role in the depressed turnout thus far.
“There was some confusion about two primaries and I think that’s why it’s starting out slowly,” she said.
Voters can cast their ballots early from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 149 E. Orange Road, Lewis Center, until March 2. The voting center will also be open until noon on Feb. 25.
Absentee ballot requests, registration and polling location information and a sample ballot can be obtained by visiting The Delaware County Board of Elections website at co.delaware.oh.us/boe/index.html.