Low voter turnout predicted for Cincinnati mayoral primary

Posted at 5:00 AM, May 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-02 06:02:48-04

CINCINNATI – It’s hard to turn on a TV in this city without seeing an ad featuring mayoral candidates. 

And despite plenty of stump speeches from three viable candidates for mayor, experts predict a dismal turnout for the mayoral primary today. Mayor John Cranley, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and former University of Cincinnati Board Chairman Rob Richardson are all vying for the mayor’s seat.

The lowest vote-getter will be eliminated Tuesday night. 

More than 217,000 people are registered to vote in Cincinnati, but Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry Poland expects only 15 to 20 percent will show up by the time polls close Tuesday. As of Monday morning, 2,000 Cincinnati voters had already cast a ballot.

“I do have some concern about whether or not the mayor’s race has really captured (voters’) attention,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke said. “I don’t have a good handle on why they aren’t voting in this primary.”

It’s not for a lack of effort from the candidates, though, Burke said. Local media outlets, including WCPO, have hosted a total of five debates and covered the candidates extensively with news reports.

“You have three very articulate candidates, all of them out working hard,” Burke said. “It’s not like there hasn’t been ample time to hear from them.”

Mayoral candidates John Cranley, Rob Richardson and Yvette Simpson discussed their vision for the city at a WCPO debate April 10.

A historically low number of people – only 5 percent of registered voters – showed up to cast a ballot for the last mayoral primary in 2013. Four candidates were running in that race but only two, John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls, seriously campaigned.

Political insiders expect a higher turnout this time around, but nothing like the 44,000 voters that turned out in 2005, the last time a Republican ran in a mayoral primary.

What issue is driving the race? 

Lack of a Republican candidate could be discouraging some from showing up to vote, although Cincinnati has turned increasingly blue in recent elections.

With three Democrats in the race, it could be harder for voters to distinguish a clear difference in the three candidates.

It doesn’t help that there isn’t a divisive topic or citywide problem that has dominated campaign talk or rallied voters so far.

In 2013, for example, the two mayoral candidates spent much of their time debating the streetcar and a city pension crisis.

“Those two issues definitely impassioned people to turn out,” said Kevin Tighe, a Democrat and Cincinnati campaign strategist. “I couldn’t tell you what the top issue is in the mayor’s race. It’s more about personality and approach.”

Some of Cranley’s campaign ads have attacked Simpson for her support of the streetcar. While the candidates are asked frequently about a streetcar expansion, all say they agree: Bus service – not the streetcar – should be the first priority.

Still, as controversial as the streetcar is, it’s not likely to drive people to the polls this time around.

“The streetcar is not being jeopardized by this election, as much as John (Cranley) may be critical of it,” Burke said. “His re-election is not going to stop the Downtown streetcar that’s running.”