Democratic House nominee in Ohio drawn out of district by a few feet, must withdraw from race
Abby Kovacs had already won her primary
Photo by Abby Kovaks. Illustration by WEWS.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Despite her property being in the district, a Democratic nominee for a state House seat in Ohio was forced to withdraw because of her official address.
Abby Kovacs, who has worked around the world for a non-profit and has a master’s degree in political science, was cut out of her district by mere feet.
She was ready to take on state House Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, a Republican from Ashtabula, this November for the 99th District seat.
“I was like, ‘wow, it really happened!'” Kovacs said about winning her primary. “And, you know, to have that taken away is — really I didn’t get to give it the chance that it deserved.”
There was some interest from other Ashtabula County residents to run for the seat, but Kovacs ended up being unopposed during the August 2 primary.
But the candidate’s mailbox was just 20 feet in the wrong direction, she said.
Her family’s home has historically been in the 99th District. Now it is in the 65th.
Although she references how much she was cut out by as 20 feet, that isn’t entirely accurate. Her property extends acres across the line, but her official mailing address disqualifies her from the race.
“I told party leadership about it, and they’re like, ‘Don’t worry, it won’t be a big deal, we’ll figure it out,'” she said.
She was able to run in the primary, trusting that information and bouncing around until August, but realized she wouldn’t have enough funds to continue. So, eight days after she won, she announced her withdrawal.
A teacher from Ashtabula, Stephen Michael Kellat, said she is just another victim of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.
“Over the course of drawing Map 3, they use of all the candidate names and addresses, which were settled in February,” Kellat said. “That gave the map drivers one heck of an advantage.”
The Democrat filed in the 99th, which the first two maps placed her in, on Feb. 2. Months later, Map 3, which was declared unconstitutional twice by the Ohio Supreme Court before being approved by a federal district court, was implemented.
She tried to reach out to Ashtabula County to give her the authority to stay, but was told by John Mead, a Democrat and the director of the board of elections, that the timeline was nearly impossible to get everything done.
“She would then have to go and jump through all the hoops of getting that trailer or a tent or anything acknowledged as a residency,” Mead said. “So unfortunate for Abby that she was so close. So close but yet so far away — as they say.”
She also can’t run in 65th District, because that isn’t where she initially filed to vote. She filed under the impression that she was in 99th because that was the map at the time.
To make the situation even more complicated than it already is, her competitor’s husband is the chairperson of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections.
“It seems a little bit deliberate to be cut out like 20 feet,” she said.
Mead reassured everything had been ethical.
“I can see where Abby would feel that way but in reality that that was not the case,” he said. “[Isaac Arthur] always abstains on anything associated with his wife.”
Kovacs doesn’t believe that — citing she knew she was a threat to Fowler Arthur’s seat.
“To hear a state representative coming out and saying things that, ‘we support teaching the Holocaust from the perspective of Nazis,’ it’s just how out of touch and ill equipped to be a leader she is,” the Democrat said.
After the exclusive News 5 story on Fowler Arthur’s comments on the Holocaust went international, Kovacs said she watched the backlash rake in. She even sent out her own Tweet about it.
If someone had no problem saying children should be taught “both sides” of the Holocaust, Fowler Arthur or the GOP probably did this purposefully, she added.
Also, it is possible that the immense backlash the Republican faced caused the mapmakers to try to get rid of the competition, the Democrat hypothesized.
To be clear, this is all just thinking from Kovacs and other Democrats. There is no evidence of Fowler Arthur or the Ohio GOP purposely sabotaging Kovacs’ chance. Fowler Arthur was not on the ORC, nor did she make any draft maps.
“We’re all aware of the unconstitutional issues and the complications associated with the maps,” Mead said. “I understand they essentially start in Columbus and kind of work their way out in concentric circles. And by the time you get up to Northeast Ohio, the farthest corner in the state, there’s not a lot of wiggle room of moving lines around.”
News 5 reached out to Fowler Arthur for a comment, but she did not respond.
Luckily for the Democrats, because Kovacs was in the primary, they got to appoint a new candidate. Kathy Zappitello, the executive director of the Conneaut Public Library, is taking her spot.
Kovacs is really happy for Zappitello, and said she will do a great job, but she can’t help but feel distraught about the situation.
“It’s unfortunate that I didn’t even get the opportunity,” she said.
Kovacs could have tried to fight it, but that would have cost her money she didn’t have, she said.
Both she and Mead said they reached out to Sec. of State Frank LaRose to try to find a way to make this work, since her property is legitimately in the district.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that in order to fight it, it would be a legal battle,” she said. “And the Democrats in my area just don’t have the funding to be able to fight that battle. So we just have to, I don’t know, bend over.”
She tried to find a loophole, but kept getting stuck.
LaRose’s team said Ashtabula is the one who would need to handle this concern, not them.
“The ultimate result of redistricting has changed district boundaries,” Rob Nichols, LaRose’s spokesperson, told News 5. “Yet, all this has to be decided at the local level.”
However, Ashtabula said they had to follow him and his directives.
“We do have a very strong centralized Secretary of State’s office, and they are very strict on a number of items as they should be,” Mead said. “And one of those very strict items is the notion of qualified electors as it relates to the address associated with your domicile.”
The Ashtabula Auditor technically could have given her a new address code, Nichols confirmed, but at this point, it is too late. She already stepped down.
“The Redistricting Commission sets the districts,” he said. “It’s the local level that is deciding matters like this.”
It is a shame that more people aren’t paying attention to redistricting and this whole mess, Kovacs said.
“This is just insane, like the things that they put me through and that the party has put me through,” she said, sighing.
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