Ricky Bolden knows it’s a privilege to vote, he just doesn’t feel politicians are doing enough to earn his.
The 22-year-old Hamilton man, who works in factories doing temporary jobs, said he won’t be voting Tuesday because politicians in mid-term elections don’t make the same kind of effort those in presidential elections do to connect with voters.
They also don’t advertise enough and rarely provide the kind of information that will let voters know what they truly stand for, Bolden said.
“I really don’t know these people,” he said. “They’re not really out there. If I’m going to vote, I want to know who I’m voting for … what I’m getting myself into.”
Every four years Ohio basks in the national spotlight of being The Presidential Swing State. More than 5.6 million Ohioans cast ballots in 2012 to decide who lives in the White House.
But in mid-term elections — like this year when Ohio picks a governor — 1.5 million registered voters can be expected to skirt their civic duty.
In Butler County, just 43 to 45 percent of 236,350 registered voters are projected to cast a ballot, according to the Butler County Board of Elections. That’s just slightly above the 41.5 percent who turned out in 2002, the lowest mid-term election turnout in the county for the last 20 years.
“Everybody perks up for a presidential election just because it’s in the news. It’s a national story. Everybody hears about it,” said Carrie Davis, director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “On state and local elections, they’re not as high profile.”
The low turnout has been fairly consistent even as early voting means people can vote weeks before Election Day. In the eight mid-term elections since 1982, turnout ranged from a low of 39.2 percent of voting-age adults in 2002 to a high of 48.1 percent in 2006, meaning a majority of the electorate stayed home in each of those elections. The average turnout in the eight elections was 44 percent.
“We have a real problem in this country and all states, and that is that in non-presidential years the percentage of the voting-age population that turns out to vote is less than 50 percent,” said former Ohio Governor Bob Taft, a Republican and former Ohio Secretary of State. “That’s not healthy for our democracy or for the mandate or legitimacy of whoever is elected.”
Tight races, intrigue drive turnout
Voter interest in the mid-term elections can be piqued if there is a tight race for governor or U.S. Senate or if there are contentious statewide ballot issues or some other galvanizing partisan issue in voters’ minds.
The upward spike in voter turnout in 2006 came even though the top of the ticket was a blowout — Democrat Ted Strickland won by the third biggest margin in Ohio history, pulling 2.4 million votes out of 4 million cast.
But the ballot was also packed with contentious statewide issues such as hiking the minimum wage, a casino proposal and two competing indoor smoking bans. Plus, there was a tight race for the U.S. Senate between Democrat Sherrod Brown and then-incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. On top of that, Democrats were driven by national events, including a botched response to Hurricane Katrina and increasing anger over the war in Iraq.
None of that is in play this year.
“This year in Ohio some voters probably don’t know there’s an election going on,” said Taft, who teaches legislative politics at the University of Dayton.
Davis and the League of Women Voters, along with seemingly tireless campaigners, continue to beat the voting drum.
They point out that local government and state government have a powerful impact on the average citizen’s life.
“There are all sorts of everyday issues that impact our jobs, our homes, our schools, our health care,” Davis said. “Those issues are on the ballot this fall.”
‘Bring sexy back’
State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, who is running for Ohio Secretary of State, said she wishes people would stop using terms like “off-year election” because she thinks it minimizes the importance of those races.
“Every single election year you gotta be on and popping,” Turner said. “To bring sexy back to voting is what I want to do.”
Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, said individual voters can have a huge impact in local elections. Between the 2013 general election and the 2014 primary, he said, 63 contests were either tied or decided by one vote.
“Certainly every vote matters,” McClellan said.
Taft and other political experts said three factors drive voter turnout: publicity, competition and the amount of resources plowed into getting voters to the polls. As a swing state, Ohio has no shortage of all three during presidential years.
“It’s usually the competitiveness of the race and basically how much they get exposed to it,” said Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Research, which conducts exit polls for the national media election pool. “People complain about those horrible television ads, but the more money that gets spent on those horrible television ads the more turnout tends to go up.”
It may seem like the candidate ads have been non-stop lately, but the onslaught ramps up in presidential election years and for longer periods. Also, there is no U.S. Senate race in Ohio this year, few competitive congressional races and the incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich has a wide lead in the polls over Democrat Ed FitzGerald.
“This year, they have no money, no effort and nothing to sell,” Republican strategist Terry Casey said of the Democrats. “There is nothing to excite the Democratic base.”
Both parties are pushing to get people to the polls, and are using increasingly sophisticated tools, such as big data, social media and other high-tech targeting software.
The Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee for the first time this year has a team solely focused on data analysis and social media integration, said OHROC spokesman Mike Dittoe.
Campaigners gather “data points” from public records, social media and data collection services to target the voters they want with a message that will resonate.
“We target persuadable voters, people who have indicated they are undecided who they are going to vote for,” said Dittoe. “If a voter is undecided, we can have our candidate reach out to them directly and talk to them about the issues that matter the most to that voter.”
Traditional ways of reaching voters — television, radio and direct mail — aren’t enough “because there are so many people now who rely on social media and online presence for their news and for political updates,” Dittoe said. At the same time, he said “knocking on doors” is the best, most basic way to engage with voters.
Pushing people to vote can be a double-edged sword for partisans, however.
Taft said the youth vote spiked after 1971 when 18 year olds were granted the right to vote in the midst of the contentious Vietnam War years. But after the war ended, younger people became less interested in voting.
Democrat Jennifer Brunner, who served as Ohio Secretary of State from 2007 to 2010, said many young people “are not that familiar with politics or they don’t care about it. For them, it’s the big one — the presidential election,” she said. “That’s the contest they really pay attention to even though a lot of people don’t realize how much impact the more local officials have on their everyday lives.”
“You don’t have to say somebody’s bad”
Ricky Bolden, who voted in the 2012, said his plan not to vote Tuesday is not because of any lack of resources for voters to tap into.
“I think it’s more the parties’ job to put themselves out there,” Bolden said.
He also is turned off by politicians slandering each other instead of just being themselves, he said.
“You don’t have to say somebody’s bad or somebody’s going to do this to get somebody’s vote,” Bolden said. “I like an honest (person) to vote for. I don’t want somebody that’s going to be bad mouthing somebody just because they’re trying to win something.”
Randall Miller, 33, of Hamilton has been a registered voter for 15 years. He voted in the 2012 presidential election, but doesn’t plan to vote in the mid-term elections, a continuing trend of his.
“I just follow that part, I just follow the presidential part,” said Miller, a maintenance technician in a West Chester Twp. factory. “I don’t think that it (the mid-term election) is very important.”
He shared Bolden’s sentiments regarding candidates not doing enough to put themselves out there and tell voters what they really stand for.
Miller said a politician might earn his vote if he heard more about them as they campaigned as long and hard as presidential candidates do, seeking to meet and talk with all constituents throughout the area they represent, not just supporters from their own party.
Turned off by politics
Maggie Bowling, 77, of Hamilton said she’s had enough of political sniping, name-calling and smear tactics, which remind her of “kindergarten kids harassing in school.”
“I don’t understand that,” she said. “ They don’t seem to have a good platform to run on and they think that by criticizing and stabbing someone else in the back, they get elected. That turned me off, so I quit.”
Bowling, who’s been a registered voter since she was 18, admittedly hasn’t vote in every mid-term of even presidential election along the way, some because she was out of town and some because of the candidate choices, or lack thereof.
She said she might reconsider voting in the gubernatorial part of the election, as those candidates haven’t employed numerous multiple calls to assess and possibly gain voter support, a tactic that soured her early this year to a slew of other candidates running for other offices.
“People are harassing me by calling me all during the day and early evening, and they annoy me to death repeatedly calling over and over,” she said. “I said anybody who calls me I’m not voting for.”
Lenski said turnout in this year’s mid-terms will be driven by competition — or in many states, by lack of competition.
“Look at the (U.S.) House races around your state. The party out of power isn’t putting up a credible, energetic, well-funded candidate in a lot of these cases,” Lenski said. “If you don’t have a choice, even if you want to throw your bum out, the other party didn’t give you somebody to vote for.”
Butler County GOP Executive Chair Todd Hall said, historically, voter turnout has been cyclical.
“There are a few reasons for lower turnout,” Hall said. “Time constraints; education as to importance of voting; and the opposition party continuing to challenge voting laws that just confuses and confounds the process, just to name a few.”
Many Americans are discouraged about the nation’s future, Hall said.
Hall said he believes that younger voters need to know how important involvement in the political process is to the direction of our nation.
“It is about education and possibilities; I believe that these are the keys to bringing voters back to the polls and bringing optimism back to America,” Hall said.
Butler County Democratic Party Executive Chair Jocelyn Bucaro said low turnout
shows a lack of respect for voters and for the institution in which they serve.
“Voters are sure to feel increasingly that their vote does not matter since nothing gets done in Washington anyway,” Bucaro said. “I also attribute voter apathy to the poisonous political discourse that is perpetuated not only by those who serve, but also in the news media and talk radio.”
The best remedy, Bucaro said, is to pass a constitutional amendment to negate Citizens United and “remove the scourge of money in politics.”
“This could help encourage more civic-minded individuals to seek public office and elevate our public discourse,” she said. “In the meantime, I would call on all those who seek public office and who serve to remember the people who elect them. Public debate in elections is good; discussing issues and laying out one’s ideas before voters should be encouraged rather than avoided.”