Democrats, Republicans Agree: Don't Just Vote For President, Vote The Whole Ballot

Oct 30, 2016

Here's something that Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke and his counterpart in the Hamilton County Republican Party, Alex Triantafilou, have in common, nine days before the election.

Neither one of them has even a vague notion of which presidential candidate – Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump – is going to win Hamilton County, a swing county in a swing state.

They would agree that it won't be Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Beyond that? Not a clue.

What they do know is this: It will be a high turnout election, with nearly as many voters coming out to vote against a candidate as they will to vote for a candidate.

Four years ago, the last time we elected a president, 75 percent of the electorate in Hamilton County voted. Last year, when there were only local races and ballot issues to decide, the countywide turnout was 42 percent.

Now, both Triantafilou and Burke want to see their presidential candidates be successful. Not to mention their respective candidates for the U.S. Senate from Ohio, incumbent Republican Rob Portman and Democratic challenger Ted Strickland.

But , in the end, that's not really their problem. That falls to the candidates' campaigns and the state and national political parties to do the heavy lifting at the top of the ticket.

They are more likely to lose sleep over "lesser" races – seats on the county commission, state legislative races, and judicial races.

Don't forget the judicial races. It's easy to do. When you fill out your ballot every candidate race will have a party designation next to the names of the candidates – except the judicial candidates.

Under Ohio law, they run without party designations. Just one name against another name. No visual clues to tip off the voter as to which is the Republican and which is the Democrat.

And that leads to something that people in positions like Burke and Triantafilou are in worry about a lot – voters who go into polling places, all full of fire to vote for one presidential candidate or the other, and then stop voting. Many, if not all of the other races,are left blank on their ballots.

This does the local political parties, whose job it is to elect their candidates to local offices, no good whatsoever. Voters who vote only for candidates who, if they win, will have Hail to the Chief played by the Marine Band when she or he enters a room, are useless to local parties. They are like the appendixes of local politics – they serve no function but can only cause severe abdominal pain for local party leaders.

Is this drop-off in voting between the top and the bottom of the ticket a real thing?

You'd better believe it.

Four years ago in Hamilton County, 421,997 voters cast ballots in the presidential election between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Of them, 918 voted for more than one candidate – an election no-no. Inexplicably, 2,185 voted for no one for president – which begs the question, why show up at a presidential election if you're not going to vote for president?

On that same ballot, way down near the bottom, Republican Pat Fischer – who is a candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court this year – was running against Democrat Martha Good for a seat on the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals, a race Fischer won.

In that Fischer-Good race, no less than 105,645 did not vote for either candidate. They skipped it altogether. They obviously didn't care one way or the other – even though being an appeals court judge is a significant job, one step below being a member of the Ohio Supreme Court.

The drop-off between those who voted in the Obama-Romney contest and the Fischer-Good race was exactly 25 percent. One out of four couldn't manage to get that far down a two-page ballot.

That is typical of the drop-off between the top of the ballot, where people are choosing the president, and the bottom of the ticket, where they are choosing largely unknown judicial candidates.

Burke said he believes Clinton is going to carry Hamilton County "rather comfortably,'' although he says that he has no polling to indicate that and that it "may be wishful thinking."

The Democrats have an advantage in turning out their voters here and elsewhere in Ohio because of the coordinated campaign by the Clinton campaign, the Ohio Democratic Party and local party organizations – all working to elect the Democratic ticket, from top to bottom.

"Trump's got no ground game here that I can see; and Hillary has 40 paid staff people in Hamilton County alone,'' Burke said.

The local party is putting out several versions of the sample ballot it distributes to voters prior to election day and outside the polling places on election day.

"They emphasize different candidates for different areas of the county, but they all promote our judicial candidates,'' Burke said. "They are the ones who need the help the most. They're running without 'D's' next to their names.

"And we want to make that every one of our voters knows exactly who the Democratic candidates are,'' Burke said. "And we will continue to push them to vote from the top to the bottom of the ballot – not just for president and maybe senator, scan their ballots and leave."

Triantafilou said he believes the local GOP has one thing going in its favor – "an enthusiasm gap."

He argues that the typical Trump supporter is much more enthusiastic about going out and voting for Trump than the average Clinton supporter is.

But, he said, a lot of the Trump supporters "are newcomers to politics, even to voting. It's hard to say what they will do when it comes to voting on the down ticket races."

The local party, Triantafilou said, has a phone-banking operation independent of the Trump campaign that not only touts Trump and Portman, but all of the Republicans on the ballot.

They are also doing e-mails, robocalls and other voter contact to get the message out.

"It's going to be close in Hamilton County,'' Triantafilou said of the presidential race.

That just makes it harder to get people to vote in the down-ticket races.

Both parties have a real interest in this. It could make the difference in any number of local races.

Maybe the parties should be spending their money trying to convince voters to start voting at the bottom of their ballots and working their way up.