Cincinnati mayoral primary 2013: Despite low turnout, patterns emerge in race

Some want to change how mayor is elected

CINCINNATI -- As Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley now focus on November’s general election, a review of voting trends in Tuesday’s mayoral primary election reveal an interesting pattern: Despite historically low voter turnout, the way in which voters cast ballots mostly mirror earlier elections.

Cranley easily was the top vote-getter in the primary, getting 2,000-plus more votes than Qualls.

Qualls and Cranley – both Democrats -- will now face off Nov. 5, after lesser-known candidates Jim Berns and Queen Noble were soundly defeated.

“Yesterday's election was a record low turnout decided by a small number of people,” Qualls told her supporters Wednesday.

“While I am humbled to be chosen as a candidate to move forward to the Nov. 5 general election, there is work ahead,” she added. “We cannot rest now.”

Like Qualls, Cranley also downplayed the results.

“Anytime you run against the status quo, you're an underdog,” Cranley said. “I am the underdog in this race.”

Qualls currently is vice mayor. Cranley hasn’t held public office since resigning from City Council in January 2009.

Some political observers have questioned if Tuesday’s results are meaningful in any way to predict what will happen in November, as voter turnout was only 5.7 percent.

In all, 11,545 votes were cast in the primary, out of 201,843 registered voters in Cincinnati.

But an analysis of election results in each of Cincinnati’s 26 wards shows a link between this year’s primary with the last three general elections for mayor.

In 22 of the 26 wards, the percentage of votes cast per ward essentially matches the percentage cast in that ward during the 2001, 2005 and 2009 general elections.

In other words, although a smaller group of people voted in Tuesday’s primary, the percentages per ward are comparable to the percentages in the last three general elections.

For example, ballots cast in Ward 2 – which includes Oakley and Madisonville – accounted for 6.65 percent of the total ballots cast in the primary.

Ward 2 accounted for 6.69 percent of all ballots cast in the 2009 mayoral election; 6.38 percent in 2005; and 6.11 percent in 2001.

Similarly, ballots cast in Ward 13 – which includes Avondale and North Avondale – accounted for 4.11 percent of the total ballots cast in the primary.

Ward 13 accounted for 3.91 percent of all ballots cast in the 2009 mayoral election; 4.77 percent in 2005; and 4.83 percent in 2001.

And ballots cast in Ward 23 – which includes Mount Airy and part of Northside -- accounted for 10.4 percent of the total ballots cast in the primary.

Ward 23 accounted for 10.21 percent of all ballots cast in the 2009 mayoral election; 10.24 percent in 2005; and 9.87 percent in 2001.

Only in four wards was this pattern broken Tuesday.

In two of the wards, turnout was markedly higher than in the last three mayoral elections. Those areas were Ward 6 (downtown) and Ward 15 (Clifton and part of Northside).

Ward 6 had 3.03 percent of the turnout on Tuesday. That compares to 1.73 percent in 2009; 1.42 percent in 2005; and 1.19 percent in 2001.

Ward 15 had 7.68 percent on Tuesday. That compares to 5.78 percent in 2009; 5.87 percent in 2005; and 5.39 percent in 2001.

Qualls won both of the wards on Tuesday.

Also, turnout was noticeably lower in two wards than in the last three mayoral elections. Those areas were Ward 25 (West Price Hill) and Ward 26 (Westwood).

Ward 25 had 4.33 percent on Tuesday. That compares to 6.48 percent in 2009; 6.5 percent in 2005; and 6.83 percent in 2001.

Ward 26 had 5.93 percent on Tuesday. That compares to 8.88 percent in 2009; 8.69 percent in 2005; and 9.10 percent in 2001.

Cranley won both of the wards Tuesday.

Overall, Cranley won 17 wards in Tuesday’s primary ; Qualls prevailed in nine.

Generally, Qualls won in the central portion of the city – downtown, Over-the-Rhine and portions of Clifton and Northside.

Cranley won in most of the West Side and East Side neighborhoods, as well as in the far northern portion of the city.

Cincinnati has held mayoral primaries since 2001. Because only two candidates ran in 2009, no primary was held that year.

In 2005, primary turnout was 21 percent. In 2001, when the primary was held on the same day as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, turnout was 15 percent.

Calls For Election Change

Tuesday’s turnout was a mere 5.7 percent, but the election will cost city taxpayers $437,000 or $37.85 per vote.

The high cost is prompting some people to urge Cincinnati to change its process for electing mayors.

David Mann, an ex-mayor and ex-congressman who is running for City Council, said it’s time to abolish the primary.

Instead, Mann prefers a system where all mayoral candidates run in the November general election. Any candidate that gets more than 50 percent of the vote would become mayor.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, a runoff election would be held two weeks later between the top two vote-getters.

“Voter interest and voter participation will be much higher in November, when people expect an election to occur,” Mann said.


many years, a second election will not be necessary,” he added. “If the second election is necessary, turnout will be higher because of the publicity associated with the general election.”

The Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s de facto third political party, supports Mann’s proposal. Charter also has cross-endorsed Mann, a Democrat.

“Charter reform is a massive project. The city charter has many references that are archaic now,” said Michael Goldman, the committee’s executive director. “We need to clean that up and improve pieces like the mayoral election system, a relatively new yet unfortunate change.

“It is absurd that taxpayers paid $400,000 for a primary yesterday that few people voted in, and that decided very little,” he said.

Any change to the way Cincinnati’s mayor is elected would require amending the city’s charter, which must be put before voters.

Charter amendments may only be placed on the ballot by either an affirmative vote by seven City Council members, or by collecting the signatures of 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election.

To view mayoral primary results by precinct, visit:

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