Ohio voters go to the polls today to vote in one of the closest governor races in modern history, decide which party will control Congress and decide the fate of State Issue 1 and hundreds of school and tax levies on the ballot.
Here’s a look at 10 key things to watch for in today’s election:
1. Ohio’s governor race
Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Rich Cordray have spent more than $50 million so far on the race for governor, and that’s not counting spending from outside groups. It is expected to be the third most expensive governor’s race in the nation this year.
President Donald Trump was in Cleveland stumping for DeWine and other Republicans Monday afternoon. Both Cordray and DeWine also rallied supporters in the Dayton area Monday night. Polls show the race is razor-thin, so voter turnout will be crucial.
Two third-party candidates are also in the race: Libertarian Travis Irvin and Green Party candidate Constance Gadell-Newton.
2. Control of Congress
It will be late into the night or early morning before we get a clear look at which party ends up in control of the U.S. House and Senate.
The current makeup of the Senate is effectively 51-49 in favor of Republicans because the two independents caucus with the Democrats. But Democrats have an uphill battle today because they are defending 26 seats compared to only nine for Republicans, and many of the Democratic seats are in states that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.
Keep a close eye on races in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Nevada and Arizona as the night unfolds. Texas, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke are engaged in an expensive battle, could also be pivotal. In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown has a big lead in most polls and is expected to defeat U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, keeping the seat in the Democratic column. However, Renacci’s camp says they have polling showing a tighter race.
On the House side, Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control from the Republicans. The Ohio seat that seems most likely to turn is in the 12th district, which stretches from the Columbus suburbs to Zanesville. Republican Pat Tiberi vacated the seat earlier this year, and in an August special election Republican Troy Balderson edged out Democrat Danny O’Connor in a squeaker. The same two candidates are on the ballot today.
3. State Issue 1
The proposed constitutional amendment, which would change Ohio law to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison and promote more treatment of drug addiction, has the support of billionaires like George Soros and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, while most Ohio judges have come out against it.
The measure would convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession charges to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period; prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment; and cut prison time for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs, except those convicted of murder, rape or child molestation.
Supporters say the amendment would free up money in the criminal justice system that could be put to better use, including for drug treatment, while opponents say it would remove a valuable tool for forcing offenders into treatment. They also question how much money the amendment would actually save.
4. Butler County Issue 2
Butler County’s first experiment in school districts banding together to seek a tax hike aims to stop potentially deadly attacks on schools by enhancing security and offering more mental health help to students.
School officials throughout Southwest Ohio and beyond will be closely watching the levy’s outcome to see if this new tax option is a viable one.
Issue 2 is radically different — in terms of electoral requirements for approval — than traditional, single-school district levies. To pass, the total vote from all five participating districts — Hamilton, Fairfield, Monroe, Edgewood and New Miami — must add up to a simple majority.
If voters in a school system do not approve the new tax — but the tax wins voter approval in other participating districts — residents in the district where the tax was defeated will still have to pay the tax increase and will also receive the new funds for their local schools.
5. Ross Twp. police levy
Ross Twp. voters are being asked to approve a police levy Nov. 6 so the department can hire full-time police officers.
If the measure doesn’t pass, and the township is left to run a part-time-only operation, those recruits could continue to be snapped up by full-time departments with benefits, Township Administrator Bob Bass said.
“We’re caught in a process where we’re essentially hiring and training what turns out to be somebody else’s full-time employee,” Bass said.
The levy request is for a replacement of the existing levy — to capture current property values — and an additional 1-mill. If successful, the levy request will bring in $782,882.
6. Local congressional races
In 2016, neither of the area’s local congressmen had any problem winning re-election. Warren Davidson and Steve Chabot both cruised to victory.
This year, one of those races may be closer than normal, but polls still give Republicans an edge to keep the seats. Davidson, who represents the strongly Republican 8th Congressional District, is expected to win re-election easily.
In the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of Warren and most of Hamilton counties, longtime Congressman Steve Chabot is facing a strong challenge from Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval. The race has been declared a toss-up for much of the year, but recently experts show it moving in Chabot’s direction.
7. Local legislative races
There are several state House and Senate races on the ballot locally, and Democrats are hoping to take back a few seats.
In the 51st District, Sara Carruthers hopes to win her first elected office after investing $300,000 of her own money in the general and primary races. She faces Democrat Susan Vaughn, who announced her candidacy after several controversies involving Ohio lawmakers, saying “ethics” was one of the top issues with many of the people she spoke with around the district. The House seat includes all of the cities of Hamilton and Fairfield, as well as Ross Twp., and parts of Fairfield, Hanover and St. Clair townships.
In Ohio’s 52nd District, which includes all or parts of Fairfield Twp., Liberty Twp., West Chester Twp., Hamilton and Sharonville, Rep. George Lang is looking to retain the seat he was appointed to in September 2017. Democrat Kathy Wyenandt, of Liberty Twp., has made a strong push with a campaign that has focused of swaying the area’s more moderate Republicans.
In the 53rd District, Rebecca Howard hopes to be one of the first three Democrats to win a Statehouse seat in Butler County since districts were divided in the 1960s. Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, is seeking her first re-election to the House seat that covers northern and western portions of Butler County from Oxford and Okeana to Middletown and Monroe.
Other local state House races include State Rep. Scott Lipps defending Warren County’s 62nd District against Democrat Jim Staton.
In the area’s state Senate race, Sen. Steve Wilson is facing a challenge from Democrat Sara Bitter in Warren County’s 7th District.
8. Butler County Commission
Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, the incumbent Republican seeking re-election, and challenger Dora Bronston, a former Middletown vice mayor and Democrat, are competing for the lone county commission seat up for election. Jobs were among the topics discussed during a debate last month between the two candidates.
Bronston said tax incentives would entice companies to look at Butler County. And if more jobs are created, then the families will follow.
“For us to increase our (collection of) taxes and revenues, then we have to have more families here and that means we need jobs,” she said. “And I see that as our major concern for the county.”
Carpenter said job-creation is an area where the county is “doing extraordinarily well,” but there is a skills gap issue.
“When we’re bringing in jobs, we’re bringing in high-paying jobs,” she said. “Our problem right now is we have too many employers and not enough trained employees.
9. Charter amendments
A city of Hamilton elections petition, which has proven to be so confusing that candidates have been knocked out of city races, could be changed after today’s election.
City officials advocate a change to Hamilton’s charter to use the clearer form used by other candidates across the county. The Hamilton charter amendment also changes the deadline for city candidates to file their petitions from the current 75 days before the election to 90 days before Election Day, bringing the city in line with state law and almost all governments in Butler County, except Middletown.
Middletown voters will consider three amendments to the city charter when they cast their ballot. Those amendments are:
• organizational structure and composition of city council. This amendment would allow the city manager to develop the organizational structure of city departments and divisions.
• eliminating the requirement that the city’s annual report be maintained at the city library. The change would post the report on the city’s website.
• providing alternate means of publication for certain legislative items and public hearings. The proposed change would require publication by electronic means, such as the city’s website and social media.
10. New faces
All of Ohio’s non-judicial statewide offices are on the ballot and the current officeholders are term-limited out. Currently Republicans hold all of these seats, but polling shows Democrats are ahead or close in all of them heading into Election Day.
State Auditor Dave Yost is running for attorney general against Democrat Steve Dettelbach. For auditor, Republican state Rep. Keith Faber is running against Zack Space and Libertarian Rober Coogan. In the race for state treasurer, Republican state Rep. Robert Sprague is running against Democrat Rob Richardson. There’s a three-way race for secretary of state with Democrat Kathleen Clyde, Republican Frank LaRose and Libertarian Dustin Nanna.
Two state Supreme Court seats are also on the ballot.