Election Round-up: Seven Of Every 10 Cincinnati Voters Stayed Home

Nov 12, 2017

Here are some random observations on Tuesday's election – but by no means the last word on the subject.

You may think it is done, but it's not quite time to stick a fork in this election. There's a Cincinnati city council seat where 321 votes separate Republican Jeff Pastor and Democrat Michelle Dillingham for the ninth and final seat; and the fourth available seat on the Cincinnati Board of Education (100 votes separate incumbent Melanie Bates and challenger Rene Hevia).

Those two will be decided when the Hamilton County Board of Elections' staff begins counting provisional ballots in about a week. The board itself will meet on Nov. 22 to certify results.

But, first, some thoughts on what happened Tuesday:

Seven of every 10 Cincinnati voters stayed home: We all know that incumbent Mayor John Cranley won a second term over challenger Yvette Simpson by an eight-percentage point spread.

Unofficial election night results showed that exactly 62,000 of the city's 217,882 registered voters cast ballots. That is a turnout of 28.46 percent of the vote.

We suppose that looks pretty good next to the 11 percent turnout in the May mayoral primary.

But, actually, it's pretty pathetic.

Get this: If you live in Cincinnati, the first thing you saw on your ballot was the Cranley-Simpson race. The top of the fight card.

So, you would naturally assume that everyone would want to vote in that race, right?

Well, no.

There were 1,509 voters who skipped the mayor's race altogether. They must not have thought either of the candidates deserved to be mayor, or they simply couldn't make up their minds. Draw your own conclusions.

Much easier to explain that there were 29 "over votes" – which means they voted for both candidates.

Now, that's confusion squared.

Self-disenfranchisement: Every Cincinnati voter can cast votes for up to nine candidates in the city council race.

With 23 candidates on the ballot, finding nine to vote for shouldn't be much of a problem.

But, in this council election, like every other one we have covered since 1983, the average voter did not vote for anywhere near nine candidates.

Usually, the average falls between six and seven candidates per voter.

In this election, the average was 6.4 – typical of council campaigns.

That tells us two things. First, there may be a lot of people "bullet voting" – voting for one or two favorites and stopping so that they don't help any other candidates. The Democratic Party is the only party with nine endorsed candidates; and it's highly unlikely that every Democratic voter in the city used all nine of his or her votes.

The Triumph of the Music Professor: Anyone who loves classic rock 'n roll has probably been a fan of Jim LaBarbara, "the Music Professor," who just recently left the airwaves after nearly 40 years of spinning the hits on local radio stations.

Some big-wigs in the Republican Party scoffed back in the summer when LaBarbara, filed to run for township trustee in Sycamore Township, a place he has called home for 39 years.

Two seats were up for election Tuesday; and LaBarbara, who had served on the township board of zoning appeals and had helped out a bit on John Kasich's first campaign for governor, but had never run for an elected office, was up against two well-known Republican incumbents – Cliff Bishop, who has been a trustee for 20 years; and Tom Weidman, who has nearly 12 years as a trustee.

Another former DJ, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, helped convince his buddy LaBarbara to run.

The Republican establishment in Sycamore Township clearly underestimated the power of celebrity (not to mention old-time rock 'n roll). When the unofficial vote count was over Tuesday night, LaBarbara finished first with 2,652 votes. Weidman held on to his seat with his 2,389 votes and a second-place finish, but Bishop was left on the outside looking in with only 2,012.

We're hoping LaBarbara turns his swearing-in ceremony into a dance party, with him working the sound board.

History made in Norwood: Outside of Norwood, the second largest city in the county, few noticed the election for the First Ward council seat.

Leslie Stevenson
Credit Campaign Facebook page

Democrat Leslie Stevenson defeated Republican Brandon Blair with a whopping 57 percent of the vote.

Tim Burke, the Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman, told WVXU that, to his knowledge, Stevenson is the first African-American to be elected to Norwood City Council.

Stevenson said she believes that is the case.

"That's what I've been told,'' she said in a text message to WVXU.

It's a city where racial and political demographics have been slowly evolving, to the point where all-white government bodies are now a thing of the past. "This is a real breakthrough,'' Burke said. "And I couldn't be happier about it."  

A purple tinge in red Warren County: We've never really had an occasion to say this in over 40 years of covering politics in Ohio, but Democrats in Warren County had a pretty darned good election night Tuesday.

Let's repeat that again: Democrats in Warren County had a pretty darned good election night Tuesday.

Democrats won in 14 contests across the heavily Republican county; and in five of them, the party assisted candidates with help in organizing through the Ohio Democratic Party's Main Street Initiative, an effort to recruit and help teach first-time candidates for local offices how to run and win.

Bethe Goldenfeld, the Warren County Democratic Party chairwoman, said there were five races the party high-lighted and assisted the candidates:

  • Kristin Malhotra, a 26-year-old candidate who won a fiercely contested race for Deerfield Township trustee;
  • Mollie McIntosh, who was elected to the Carlisle school board;
  • Rona Walter, elected to the Kings school board;
  • Krista Wyatt, a retired assistant fire chief elected to Lebanon city council;
  • Wayne Siebert, elected to the Little Miami School Board.

These were races where the party designations did not appear on the ballot, but that has always been the case and the Republicans almost always win. Often, no Democrats even bother to run.

"Our candidates don't deny that they are Democrats, but that was not their selling point,'' Goldenfield said. "They run on issues important to their communities."

It will become more difficult next year, Goldenfield said, when countywide offices and state legislative seats up for election and party designations will be on the ballot.

"But we will recruit candidates and we will run,'' Goldenfield said. "If we don't run anyone, we will never know what the outcome might have been. We are going to compete."

Quinlivan says she knows why she lost: Blame it on the Democratic Party slate card.

Laure Quinlivan, who was on the ballot Tuesday trying to regain the Cincinnati council seat she lost four years ago, fell way short, finishing 13th in a field of 23 candidates.

She told WVXU she believes it was because, earlier this year, she was passed over by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee for a party endorsement and, thus, her name didn't appear on the Democratic slate cards that volunteers pass out on election day at the polling places.

"When I first ran in 2009, they told me being on that slate card was worth 5,000 votes,'' Quinlivan said. "A lot of people believe it is much more than that – maybe 10,000, 12,000 votes.

If she had had another 5,000 votes or more to add to her 16,308 unofficial votes, she says she would have easily finished in the top nine.

The same is true, she said, of Derek Bauman, a first-time candidate who was also passed over for a Democrat Party endorsement. Bauman ended up in 14th place, with an unofficial vote count of 16,157.

"The party has a problem with endorsing women,'' Quinlivan said. Three of the nine endorsed candidates were women this time – Tamaya Dennard, who was elected on her first try; Lesley Jones, who finished 12th, and Michelle Dillingham, who was 10th in the unofficial vote count and believes the provisional ballots might push her into the top nine.

Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke said there is no question that being on the Democratic slate card is a big help – he just can't quantify it.

"I really don't know how to put a number on it,'' Burke said. "I'm not sure you can."

As to why Quinlivan and Bauman were passed over for endorsement, Burke said the party wanted a ticket "that looks like the city."

Incumbents P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Chris Seelbach are all white males. Greg Landsman, who ended up finishing 7th Tuesday, had earned an endorsement because of his strong showing in 2013, as had Dillingham. They are both white.

The only black incumbent was Wendell Young and he was endorsed. So, Burke said, the Cincinnati Democratic Committee chose to endorse three black candidates – Dennard, Jones and Ozie Davis, who finished 11th.

"With African-Americans making up half of the city and being a dependable block of voters for Democratic candidates, they had to be represented on the ticket,'' Burke said. "To do otherwise would have been just wrong."