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Could contentious, high-profile Cincinnati primaries boost voter turnout?

Posted at 6:45 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 20:52:24-04

NORWOOD, Ohio — Off-year elections typically have low voter turnout, and primary elections -- like Tuesday's Ohio primary -- often can have even lower numbers. But a high-profile mayoral race and a controversial ballot measure in Cincinnati might combine to buck that trend.

For Cincinnati voter Carolyn Jones, ballot Issue 3 and the Cincinnati mayoral primary were enough to motivate her to the polls. Six candidates are vying for two spots on November's general mayoral ballot, and Issue 3 would amend the city's charter to require at least $50 million in locally sourced funding be allocated to affordable housing projects.

Both races come after a tumultuous year marked with scandal at City Hall.

"That was a very big one for me," Jones told WCPO. "The mayor, most definitely. I've seen all these guys in action. I like a little bit about each one of them, but you need to think about who will serve your interest."

ISSUE 3: Pros and cons of affordable housing charter amendment
MAYOR'S RACE: Meet the 6 candidates for Cincinnati's top job

It was the same for Nicole Baah, who said, "The mayoral race was really interesting...knowing the mayor has such a big impact on that and really trying to participate on that."

According to Hamilton County Board of Elections director Sherry Poland, early voting turnout was up, both in person and by mail, compared to the last Cincinnati mayoral primary race in 2017. As of Sunday night, 3,185 people voted in person across the county, and in the city of Cincinnati, 5,072 people had returned absentee ballots.

"I think we're going to be higher than the last one in 2017," Poland said. "The highest turnout ever in a Cincinnati primary election was 20%, and there's a chance we could hit that."

The record-holding year was the 2005 mayoral primary, when about 44,000 people voted. In 2017, about 24,000 voters cast ballots and in the cycle before that, 2013, half that many turned out.

On Monday, Poland said it was still too early to tell how turnout this year will compare to years past.

"It's really premature because a majority of the voters in Hamilton County do choose to vote on Election Day. So I think that's where we'll see our biggest numbers come," she said.

For Jones, even an off-year, local primary is worth the effort it takes to cast her ballot.

"The idea that if you want to be part of what's going on and part of our government, we have to start with the basics, and these are the basics," she said.

Day-of voting opens for Ohio's primary at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, and polls will remain open until 7:30 p.m.