Sunday, October 31, 1999

Majority of voters will skip election




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Not all elections are created equal.

        Some elections make voters jump up and take notice; others do not disturb their slumber.

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        Two years ago, the last time there was a Cincinnati City Council election, 83,314 residents made it to the polls, which sounds like a lot, until you realize it was only 39 percent of registered voters.

        On the other hand, the 1996 election — the last time presidential candidates were on the ballot — 128,388 voters showed up, nearly two-thirds of those registered.

        This year, the turnout in the Cincinnati City Council election — even with a school levy and school board race — the turnout is likely to be much closer to the former than the latter.

        A turnout of 35 to 40 percent will probably seem like an enormous victory for democracy compared to the paltry numbers expected in Kentucky, where it may be a struggle to have numbers in double digits.

        A turnout of 10 percent or thereabout would be remarkable in a state having its first gubernatorial re-election campaign in 200 years. But it is understandable under the present circumstances, where there is a popular Democratic governor in Paul Patton running against a Republican, Peppy Martin, who is apparently hearing voices in her head telling her half the good people of the Commonwealth are felons.

        The only way Kentuckians would come out in numbers for this one is if they sold Powerball tickets at polling places.

        Cincinnatians, on the other hand, have no obvious reason for being less than enthusiastic about what will be, in some ways, a historically significant council election.

        It will be the last in which the city's mayor will be the person who ends up with the most votes in the council field race — a piece of loopiness that has been in effect for 12 years now and has caused havoc at City Hall.

        And, the forecasters say, the weather Tuesday will be more than tolerable.

        So, what is it about a city council election that guarantees a turnout of barely more than half the normal turnout in a presidential year?

        Maybe it is because presidential elections somehow seem more grand; the voter strides to the polls thinking he or she is about to be a part of a history-making event.

        Council elections have none of that. Council candidates stand outside grocery stores in the rain, trying to attract attention. Candidates show up at your community council meeting, where they can be praised or pilloried in person.

        Talk to people who show up at community council “candidate night” events that have been taking place around the city for two months and you quickly get the feeling that there aren't too many voters out there who take Cincinnati City Council seriously enough to care much one way or the other who gets elected.

        This year, challengers have done their share to nudge this feeling along. They have spent the bulk of their time bashing the incumbents as boobs, loudmouths, spendthrifts and clowns with all the moral discernment of a sea anemone.

        The incumbents, for their part, have labored mightily to change the subject.

        The irony is, in this last weekend of the campaign, there are candidates rooting for, and candidates rooting against, a big turnout.

        Some are praying for nasty weather because they know that their supporters will turn out rain or shine. Go ahead and fool 'em all. Show up anyway.

        E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

       



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