It’s finally Primary Election Day in Ohio. Here’s what to keep an eye on.

By: - April 28, 2020 1:00 am
A voting location

File photo of a voting location from Wikimedia Commons by Tom Arthur.

At long last, it is finally Primary Election Day in Ohio. Here are a few things to know today:

There is still time to vote

If you haven’t yet cast a ballot, you still have an opportunity to do so today. 

Monday was the postmark deadline to mail in absentee ballots, but if you didn’t mail it you have another way. Voters can drop off their ballots to the county board of elections office up until 7:30 p.m. Each office has a drop box available today — you can find your county’s office location here

If you never applied for an absentee ballot — or did but never received it — you can still attempt to vote today at the county board of elections. You will fill out a provisional ballot. So long as you haven’t already voted and are an eligible voter in your county, it may get counted. 

Contact your county board of elections if you have any questions.  

Some Statehouse races to follow

With the Republican Party holding supermajorities in the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate, you would expect there to be more Democrats challenging one another for a shot to swing a district in the fall.

Actually, there are more Republican contested primaries than Democratic in both chambers. Supermajorities and term limits mean a host of open seats to contest for Republicans, too.

Looking at the GOP first, there are a few interesting Ohio Senate primaries to follow. Two state representatives, Candice Keller of Middletown and George Lang of West Chester, are trying to make the jump to the Ohio Senate. They join third challenger Lee Wong in vying for the 4th District representing Southwest Ohio. The district went heavily Republican in November 2016, meaning the winner of this primary is likely to hold the seat next year.

The 26th District primary has made waves for the presence of challenger Melissa Ackison. She’s taking on state Rep. Bill Reineke of Tiffin, who has the Republican establishment’s backing in his attempt to hop over to the other chamber. Ackison has gone after Reineke aggressively, but has faced her own criticism for a number of controversial statements and actions on the campaign trail. (Prior to being famously photographed protesting the shutdown orders at the Statehouse, she accused the government of wanting to kill her.) 

Both candidates have raised tens of thousands of dollars more than the Democratic challenger and it was a GOP-unopposed seat in 2016. If Ackison pulls off an upset, she may be making waves inside the Statehouse next year.

State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard

Democrats have a host of key races today. In the Senate, Democrats are targeting the 16th District seat held by Republican Stephanie Kunze of Hilliard as part of a broader push to make inroads in Ohio’s suburbs. Four Democrats are vying for the chance to face Kunze this fall — Mark Bailey, Eric Connolly, Troy Doucet and Crystal Lett. 

Democrats picked up five seats in the Ohio House of Representatives in 2018 and need two more in 2020 to end the Republican supermajority. One target will be the 16th District seat held by incumbent Dave Greenspan of Westlake, who won in 2018 by a relatively narrow margin. The Democratic challengers today include Joe Romano and Monique Smith. 

All eyes will be on the Ohio Supreme Court races this November, but there is no drama today. Two Democrats and two Republicans are all unopposed in their respective primaries. 

Eyeing the Congressional primaries

It was going to be an uphill battle for Democratic challenger Morgan Harper in her quest to unseat four-term U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty of Columbus in the 3rd Congressional District.

And that was without a pandemic which sent college students home and negatively impacted turnout by causing an absentee mail-in ballot system.

The progressive candidate’s campaign has worked hard to navigate voters through the absentee process, but will be left hoping for a prayer against the well-funded incumbent.

Democrats Jennifer Bell and Alaina Shearer are competing for the party’s nomination in the 12th District. They hope to unseat incumbent Troy Balderson this fall after the Republican won a close special election and subsequent general election in 2018. 

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)

A trio of Democrats are competing for the chance to take on Republican Jim Jordan in the 4th District: Shannon Freshour, Mike Larsen and Jeffrey Sites. Likewise, Republicans Christina Hagan, Duane Hennen, Jason Mormando, Robert Santos, Robert Morckel, Donald Truex and Lou Lyras all want a shot to face Democrat Tim Ryan in the Mahoning Valley’s 13th District.

How will the turnout be?

This is the biggest question mark for the 2020 primary election. 

In 2016, with both parties having a contested presidential primary, there were just over 3.3 million votes cast in Ohio out of 7.56 million registered voters — putting the turnout at 44%.

The 2012 turnout, with just one party having a contested presidential primary, was 1.97 million total votes cast — a paltry 25.5%.

This time around, there are two major factors at play which could hurt turnout. The first is, of course, the mail-in ballot system. While many people did vote early, the last-second postponement of Election Day in March and the subsequent confusion over the weeks that followed will likely lead to fewer votes cast than a traditional, in-person election. 

The assertion that Ohioans could vote provisionally even if having not gone through with the absentee ballot system came far too late to make a widespread impact. 

The second major factor deals with the Democratic primary. With Bernie Sanders dropping out of the race in early April, that left Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee. Thus, neither party has a contested presidential primary on today’s ballot. There may be some Democrats who chose to not bother with a tedious absentee ballot process without the incentive of a presidential vote to cast. 

Many groups as well as Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose have spent the past month educating citizens on the new process and encouraging them to vote. 

Results may take awhile….

Patient Ohioans will have to wait just a little longer for the election results to be tabulated. 

It will take time for all the provisional ballot rulings and for the absentee ballots to all be received. The postmark deadline was Monday and the boards of elections will accept ballots received by May 8.

As such, final results won’t be known until at least that day.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.