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Low Turnout Expected For Cincinnati Mayoral Primary

Suppose they had an election and nobody came?
That could be close to the truth tomorrow, in the City of Cincinnati's mayoral primary. 
Taxpayers will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to run an election where everybody knows what's going to happen ... Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley will defeat two other candidates and move on the the actual mayor's race in November.
So, is there a better way?  Local 12 News Reporter Jeff Hirsh investigates the issue of low turnout, high cost.

Here at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, they are processing mail-in votes, which will be counted tomorrow, on mayoral primary election day.

But if only 25 percent of the city's total voters cast ballots, these early ones, plus those at polling places tomorrow, it will be considered a good turnout.  Just one quarter of the voters would be good.

Sally Krisel, Hamilton Co. Board of Elections:
"I think there's a lot of focus on the November election and there may not be as much focus on the primary itself."

Cincinnati's first mayoral primary was in 2001 ... voters had okayed a charter change, establishing a September mayoral primary.  The top two vote getters would then face each other for mayor during the general election in November.

Four people ran in that 2001 primary, with little doubt that then Mayor Charlie Luken and tv newscaster Courtis Fuller would be the top two.

But something happened that day which made mayoral politics seem irrelevant. The first Cincinnati mayoral primary was on 9-11.

Both Charlie Luken and Courtis Fuller voted early that day, before the 9-11 attacks. Not many people voted later.  Total turnout was 15 percent.
In 2005, turnout was up to 20 percent, as four well-known politicians ... David Pepper, Alicia Reece, Charlie Winburn, and Mark Mallory ran, along with three little known others.

There was no primary in 2009, because only two people ran, Mallory and Brad Wenstrup.   Tomorrow, everyone expects Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls and former Councilman John Cranley to defeat two other opponents.  But despite a virtually guaranteed outcome, under the charter, there still has to be a primary, costing taxpayers some 430-thousand dollars.

"We have to go through the whole thing, just like it was a full blown election, no matter how many people are involved."

"The big costs are material, supplies, the printing, and the poll workers were are required to have by state law, and we are allowed to recoup about 85 per cent of the costs. But it's all taxpayer dollars whether it's city or county? Exactly."

Jeff Hirsh:
Whomever wins on Tuesday gets bragging rights, but it's important not to put too much stock in whomever comes in first. In the only two contested primaries we've had, in 2001 Courtis Fuller won the primary, but Charlie Luken won in November, and in 2005 David Pepper won the primary and lost to the man who is now mayor, Mark Mallory.    So, is there a better way?  One option ... if a candidate takes 51 per cent of the vote in the primary, that's it, the mayor's race is over... No election in November.  But that's such a huge change in the political dynamic, it's not likely to happen.

Another option ... forget the primary and have all the mayoral candidates run in November.... whether it's two of them or ten.  But that way, you could end up with a mayor elected with less than fifty per cent of the vote.
If something like this was in effect in 2005, David Pepper, who won the primary, would have become mayor with 31 per cent of the vote.

So, it looks like we're stuck with the current, admittedly flawed system.  There is a cost to democracy... in this case, 430-thousand dollars.   

Polls are open in the City of Cincinnati from 6:30 am until 7:30 pm.  We'll have results on Local 12 News tomorrow night at ten and eleven and on Local 12 dot com.




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