Election Day is less than a month away. Are you prepared to vote? Cincinnati residents, in particular, have dozens of candidates to learn and tons of information to digest before Nov. 8. But suburbanites have a lot to choose from, too, from school boards to tax levies. And every voter in Ohio has to take a position on five important statewide ballot initiatives.
What? You don't know about the five ballot initatives? You don't know about two other Cincinnati ballot issues? You don't know the positions much less the names of all 31 people running for Cincinnati City Council?
Relax, you still have time to get to know the candidates and issues.
But not much.
Looking at the big picture, there are several reasons this year's elections are critical:
· Ohio has a real chance to elevate itself from national laughingstock to national leader in how we conduct elections. Like Florida in 2000, Ohio swung the presidential election to George W. Bush last year under dubious circumstances, with questionable decisions and tactics spewing from the Secretary of State's office. Like Katherine Harris in Florida in 2000, Ken Blackwell served as Bush's statewide campaign leader while simultaneously overseeing the state's pre- and post-election actions and was roundly criticized for politicizing what should be a non-partisan cornerstone of American democracy — faith that each person's vote counts.
State Issues 2, 3, 4 and 5 attempt to overturn the perception that Ohio can't run fair elections by proposing wide-ranging reforms on absentee voting, campaign contributions and how legislative districts are drawn and shifting election oversight to a bi-partisan board of supervisors.
· Hamilton County Municipal Court judgeships will be decided in contested, competitive races. Judges on this court run in district races across the county, with two judgeships in each of seven districts — a system set up to ensure diversity by requiring judges to represent small constituencies. Hamilton County otherwise isn't known for diversity in the courts, as almost every judge elected countywide is a Republican.
Well-known challengers are taking on respected Municipal Court judges in a good number of races this fall, providing voters with real choices. (See interviews with judge candidates on page 11.)
· Taxation issues continue to dominate local ballots, with many well-regarded school systems fighting for every extra tax dollar they can get. The anti-tax strategy focuses on starving schools of funds in order to extract spending cuts.
A similar strategy is being played out on a larger scale in Cincinnati, where a ballot initiative seeks to phase out the city's property tax in order to force smaller budgets. The same initiative was on last fall's ballot and was defeated.
· And then there's the Cincinnati mayoral race. Even non-city residents are following the David Pepper and Mark Mallory campaigns, as the winner will emerge with a real opportunity to lead the region forward to new heights.
Both candidates are young and enthusiastic (Pepper moreso perhaps), so the next mayor will energize the city in ways we haven't seen in quite a long time. Both are smart and well-connected (Mallory moreso perhaps), so they'll likely reach out to surrounding communities and suburbs to build that ever-elusive "regional" approach to problem-solving.
If nothing else, Cincinnati got the head-to-head race we wanted and deserved when Pepper and Mallory survived the Sept. 13 primary. Many people I know, thinking Pepper was a shoo-in, voted for Mallory in the primary to make sure these two would advance.
And the campaign so far is everything we could have hoped for. Although similar in background and personality, the two candidates have slowly begun to differentiate themselves, with the race basically boiling down to insider-vs.-outsider status (Pepper sees his City Hall experience as a positive and Mallory's unfamiliarity with the city a negative, while Mallory sees Pepper as part of the problem at City Hall and himself as the solution).
There are a number of ways to get more familiar with these two. They'll be appearing together in at least two more debates: a League of Women Voters event Oct. 25 and a media-sponsored event (including CityBeat) Nov. 1 at the Channel 48 studios. Both candidates have thorough Web sites: www.david-pepper.com and www.electmallory.com.
Speaking of Web sites, the best roundup of all races and issues — particularly the actual language for each ballot initiative — is the League of Women Voters' Hamilton County page (www.smartvoter.org/oh/hm).
I'll also happily plug CityBeat's election coverage at www.citybeat.com, where you'll find more than 20 interviews, profiles, columns and editorials about the mayoral race alone, plus other content related to all the issues and candidates.
Next week CityBeat offers interviews with the 24 non-incumbents running for Cincinnati City Council, and the paper's election endorsements run in our Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 issues. The Nov. 2 issue also features our famous "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts of media, special interest, political party and organization picks in all races.
Pay attention, get involved, make a difference. Change is coming — be part of it.
Contact john fox: jfox(at)citybeat.com