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Voters look ahead to November elections following Ohio's second primary

Jim Gaines is the statehouse bureau chief for the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News newspapers. In this interview with WYSO, he talks about voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary and what voters will face in the November midterms.

Jim Gaines: On the ballot this time were state central committee seats for Democratic or Republican parties, which normally only really interest the party faithful and state House and Senate seats. But even most of the state House and Senate seats were unopposed. Just a little over a third of them drew any primary opposition. So, with the primary split between May 2nd, when there were primaries for the statewide offices like governor, that'll be on the ballot in November and this August 2nd primary with for most people, maybe one or one contested state House race, if that, and then maybe a local ballot issue.

Turnout was expected to be low, and it was the early voting results that the secretary of state's office just posted showed that primary turnout was under 8 percent. I haven't seen totals for each party yet, but the last two early voting numbers that were released, like I mentioned earlier, Ohio tends to vote about 54% Republican, 46% Democrat. So, you'd think even in a low interest primary, that'll be fairly close or with a slight Republican edge. And yet in the primary, Democrats outvoted Republicans by about 25 percent. Now, of course, that's only a tiny fraction of the votes cast, about one in four of them, and only about 8percent overall voter turnout. So, I don't know if you can really call that a trend, but nonetheless, it did seem surprising for this primary. And you have to wonder what's driving that.

One suggestion is that it was the Supreme Court's overturn of Roe versus Wade, which Democrats may be counting on to drive turnout in the national elections and also here in Ohio. Whether that is indeed a strong motivator for Democrats or Republicans, don't really know yet. But the only indication we've got from the low numbers of this primary turnout, the breakdown there indicates that maybe something is.

Jerry Kenney: And so, keeping that in mind, there are plenty of issues and candidates that people will be paying a lot more attention to as we head into the midterms.

Gaines: Yeah. The November elections, of course, you got a lot more on the ballot. You have the statehouse seats that we just had the primary for, of course. But you've also got all the statewide offices. You've got election for governor and secretary of state and state auditor and attorney general, and all of these are contested. You know, obviously the most high-profile races, Governor, which is between incumbent Mike DeWine, who's Republican and the former mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley as the Democratic nominee. You've got a Senate race. You've got former U.S. Representative Tim Ryan on the Democratic side, and you've got J.D. Vance, both of whom are seeking to replace outgoing Republican Senator Rob Portman. And you also got congressional races. After the 2020 census, Ohio had to lose one of its 16 U.S. House seats. So, there's elections for just 15 in redrawn districts in the Miami Valley, at least part of the Miami Valley is in four districts the first, the eighth, the 10th and 15th. And you've got Republican incumbents defending their seats in all of those.

Kenney: What else at the state level do you think voters will need to pay attention to in the midterms?

Gaines: Yes, indeed there are, as I mentioned, Supreme Court justice elections. Three of the seven seats, including the chief justiceship, are up this time. There are two people, both women and both current two Supreme Court justices running for the chief justiceship. The Democrat is Jennifer Brunner, and the Republican is Sharon Kennedy. You've got two other seats also up for election there. You have Republican incumbents seeking to stay on the court. All 99 of the state House seats and about half of the state Senate seats will be up. Again, this is the only time that we'll be using these maps here, for the 2024 election we'll have redrawn districts yet again. But there are also two state constitution amendments on the ballot. One of these would go specifically forbid non-citizens from voting in Ohio state or local elections. And the other would change the Ohio bail system or change the language in the Ohio Constitution about the requirements for bail. And, you know, both of these, opponents say that they're calculated to, as, you know, kind of red meat for the Republican base to drive turnout on that side.

The voting referendum is actually due to Yellow Springs. Back in 2019, Yellow Springs passed a local referendum to let non-citizen permanent residents vote just in their local elections. But Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, stepped in 2020 to prevent any resident non-citizens from voting. Of course, Yellow Springs is pretty small, and the immigrant population is even smaller, and the non-citizen permanent resident population is smaller still. So, we're only talking about a couple dozen people here, and that's the only place in Ohio that has in any way authorized noncitizen residents to vote in their local elections. So, you've got Democrats saying, look, this is pretty much a non-issue. But Republicans say, well, if we if we don't stop it here, you know, you'll have these bigger cities passing it as well.

The thing is, Ohio State Constitution, like many states, does not explicitly say that non-citizens can't vote. They can't vote in federal elections. That was made illegal actually only in 1996. But local and state elections are a bit of a different story. And then we've got bail reform. Now, there are there have been bipartisan bail reform bills in the legislature for a while. House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 182. Those would set a $200 minimum for bail and set the maximum at a quarter of somebody's monthly income, minus things like mandatory payments, educational expenses, that kind of thing. But the argument for making that change is that high cash bail basically gives a pass to wealthy people while poor people have to sit in jail because they can't afford it, even if it's a fairly small amount.

The amendment, which is going to be on the ballot, is, again, a Republican backed amendment, which it wouldn't set any minimums or maximums for amounts. It would really do nothing to cash bail per say. It would specifically mandate that courts consider public safety, the person's criminal record, the likelihood that they flee before trial, and seriousness of their offense in calculating bail. Opponents of the amendment say that those things are already considered in the pretrial detention hearing process, separate for the bail system, so that this supposed bail reform wouldn't really do anything.

Kenney: Jim Gaines is the statehouse bureau chief for the Dayton Daily News. Jim thanks so much for your time today.

Gaines: Great, thank you. Happy to be here.

Dayton Daily News Statehouse Bureau Chief, Jim Gaines.
Dayton Daily News
Dayton Daily News Statehouse Bureau Chief, Jim Gaines.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.