voice for democracy

As Newark voter participation collapses, so do fortunes of Democratic candidates – The Newark Advocate

NEWARK — Voter participation in city elections has continually declined in the last dozen years, coinciding with the demise of the Democratic Party, which will have no elected office-holders next year.
Turnout was 18.6% in the city of Newark in the recent general election, when Democrats lost all eight city council contests and did not have a candidate in the auditor’s race. The Democrats also failed to win any of the seven city elections in 2019.
The city ward races, always the year following the presidential election, attracted a 55% turnout in 2009, followed by 26% in 2013, 24% in 2017 and 18.6% this year.
Turnout in the mayoral elections has similarly declined in recent elections. From 1995 to 2011, mayoral elections attracted 41% to 48% of the registered voters. In 2011, it was 43%, followed by 36% in 2015, and 27.6% in 2019, when Republican Jeff Hall won his third term.
Carol Floyd, a Democrat and former councilwoman and civics teacher, said it’s frustrating to see voter interest drop so low.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Floyd said. “Most people don’t know what council does. Local government is the closest to you. I just don’t think they see and understand. Most people aren’t aware how important it is. I always told my civics students if you don’t vote, you have no say in democracy. Your vote is what’s most important.”
It’s become clear the only way for Democrats to win in Licking County is not be identified as a Democrat on the election ballot, as is the case for judicial elections. Outside of Reynoldsburg, Licking County will have no Democratic office-holders who won while identified as a Democrat on the ballot.
Democrats have not won a countywide election since 2004, when Marcia Phelps beat independent James Argo, and Democrats have not defeated a Republican in a countywide race since Phelps defeated Gary Burkholder in the 2000 county commissioner race.
But Newark has been the one location Democrats competed and won, earning a 6-4 majority of city council voting members in the 2013 election. The 2015 election left council divided 5-5, but Republicans took a 6-4 advantage in 2017, then 7-3 in winning the 2019 races, and 10-0 with this year’s sweep.
“I know candidates worked hard on both sides, and it ends up depending on the demographics of voters that turn out, and the message of candidates and who people like better,” Licking County Democratic Party chairwoman Marcia Phelps said. “I do think there should be a balance of power. It’s a disappointment.”
Most shocking was the defeat of Democrat Jeremy Blake, a two-term 2nd Ward councilman and 2019 mayoral candidate. Blake received just 38% of the vote in the ward where he received 54% in the mayor’s race two years ago and 65% in the 2013 ward election. He was unopposed in the 2017 2nd Ward race.
Blake has declined to comment on the election since the results were final.
“It’s a shock,” Floyd said of Blake’s loss, “but it can stem back to the turnout. You can encourage people to vote, but still it comes down to who shows up to vote.
“Maybe the Democrats were just outworked. That’s a general statement, not for any particular wards. Some politicians go door-to-door, although that was tough with the pandemic.”
The coronavirus pandemic could also have played a role in the campaign strategies.
Bill Cost, who lost the at-large race to Spencer Barker, said “Republicans knocked on doors. Everybody’s got their own way of campaigning. COVID was certainly a factor.”
Phelps said she did not hear of any Democrats who were leery of campaigning door-to-door during the pandemic, but she said it did impact fundraising efforts.
“Democrats were apprehensive about congregating,” Phelps said. “It is one of the variables that weighs into elections, and we already had enough variables.
“Community activities do help when running a campaign. Those were reduced over the last year, and over two years. I know some of the Democratic candidates were reluctant about having a fundraiser. A few were outdoors.”
There was plenty for Republicans to cheer for on election night. The party had not won the 1st, 2nd or 7th wards in the last four elections. In 2017, Republicans did not field a candidate in any of the traditionally Democratic strongholds.
The last time a Republican won any of the three wards was in 2001, when future mayor Bob Diebold won the 1st Ward.
Mayor Jeff Hall said, “Republicans have been doing the right thing in this city and that’s why we’re rewarded.”
Republican Party Chairwoman Jeanne Bolton said candidates went out and listened to the needs of residents.
“There was an intentional effort to engage candidates in a grassroots neighborhood campaign,” Bolton said. “Our newly elected officials were prepared through our mentorship program. We as a party are fortunate to have candidates that understand the responsibility of public service is the core of leadership.”
Republicans credited former councilman John Uible for helping recruit some of the new candidates.
On election night, Uible told the Republican crowd at The Elks Club, “I want to say how proud I am of all you guys. It’s not any one thing that makes this work, but everybody working together.”
Spencer Barker, who defeated Cost in the at-large race, said “Beth Bline worked her tail off and knocked on every door multiple times” in the 2nd Ward.
Cheri Hottinger, a Republican appointed to fill a city council at-large vacancy, said those former Democratic wards have changed, especially in the 1st Ward, where she spent time campaigning for Michael Houser.
“The numbers today are not what it was a ways back,” Hottinger said. “It’s more independent, getting further away from ‘D’ and ‘R.’ A lot of voters are not dedicated to voting for one party.”
The Licking County Board of Elections reports that 63.5% of registered voters in the city are not aligned with either party, based on primary election voting history. Of the rest, 16% are Republican and 10.6% are Democrat.
In the 1st Ward, only 6% are Democrat, 9% are Republican and the rest have no party or a third party. In the 2nd Ward and 7th wards, Republicans have a slight edge.
Republicans have more registered voters than Democrats in all seven wards and in 25 of 27 precincts in the city. The only remaining areas where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans is Precinct 2B and Precinct 7C.
Hottinger said the party’s victories bring responsibility.
“I’m little nervous because you can’t play party politics,” Hottinger said. “You never should, but now you really can’t. Now, we really have work to do and all the problems in the city are our problems.
“What I hope happens is that we have really good debate and ideas. You have to consider everyone’s perspective because there might be something you’re not aware of. Then, whatever decisions we make we’re solid with and move forward with it.”
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1st Ward: 10.8% in 2021; 12.5% in 2017; 15.9% in 2013; 38.1% in 2009.
2nd Ward: 13.5% in 2021; 12.5% in 2017; 15.8 in 2013; 35.6% in 2009.
3rd Ward: 21.6% in 2021; 25.8% in 2017; 28.0% in 2013; 49.0 in 2009.
4th Ward: 18.6% in 2021; 27.2% in 2017; 32.5% in 2013; 53.2% in 2009.
5th Ward: 27.9% in 2021; 33.3% in 2017; 35.8% in 2013; 61.3% in 2009.
6th Ward: 19.8% in 2021; 27.9% in 2017; 27.9% in 2013; 56.6% in 2009.
7th Ward: 14.1% in 2021; 22.6% in 2017; 18.6% in 2013; 56.6% in 2009.
Citywide: 18.6% in 2021; 23.8% in 2017; 25.9% in 2013; 54.6% in 2009.
Mayor: 27.6% in 2019: 36% in 2015: 43% in 2011; 41%-48% from 1995 to 2011.
1st Ward
Results: Michael Houser (R) 273; Michael Reagan (D) 126.
Registered voters: 347 Rep; 224 Dem; 3,170 none; 3,744 total.
2nd Ward
Results: Beth Bline (R) 335; Jeremy Blake (D) 206.
Registered voters: 334 Rep; 319 Dem; 3,401 non; 4,056 total.
2019 for mayor: Blake (D) 308; Hall (R) 261.
3rd Ward
Results: Jeff Rath (R) 596; David Lipstreu (D) 380.
Registered voters: 850 Rep; 607 Dem; 3,222 none; 4,681 total.
4th Ward
Results: Mark Labutis (R) 578; Josh Jenkins (D) 287.
Registered voters: 834 Rep; 555 Dem; 3,340 none; 4,733 total.
5th Ward
Results: Jonathan Lang (R), 900; Mollie Prasher (D) 485.
Registered voters: 1,316 Rep; 663 Dem; 3,095; 5,076 total.
6th Ward
Results: Doug Marmie (R) 773; Zachary Dobbelaer (D) 281.
Registered voters: 1,007 Rep; 642 Dem; 3,705 none; 5,449 total.
7th Ward
Results: Colton Rine (R) 325; Donna Ellis-Shaw (D) 234.
Registered voters: 409 Rep; 372 Dem; 3,250 none; 4,033 total.
At-large/citywide
Results: Spencer Barker (R) 3,253; Bill Cost Jr. (D) 2,315; Daniel Crawford 243.
Registered voters: 5,097 Rep; 3,382 Dem; 20,173 none; 31,771 total.
Percentages: 16.0% Rep; 10.6% Dem; 63.5% none.
Countywide
Registered voters: 25,273 Rep; 13,959 Dem; 84,348 none; 123,670 total.
Percentages: 20.4% Rep; 11.3% Dem; 68.2% none.
* Election turnout was 24.2% countywide. There are 123,668 registered voters in Licking County and 29,942 cast ballots.
* Turnout in Newark was 18.6% citywide, and only 13% in the three traditionally Democratic wards — 1st, 2nd and 7th.
* Newark has about 50,000 residents and 31,771 registered voters, but only 5,909 voted.
* Donna Ellis-Shaw was the lone Democrat to get more than 40% of the vote in the city ward elections.
* Democrats did better in the early and absentee vote, with Cost, Blake and Shaw winning the absentee vote. But on Election Day, Democrats managed just 33%.
* The precincts with the lowest turnouts were: Harrison Twp. E 3.9%; Heath 1B 9.8%; Newark 7C 10.0%; and Newark 1B 10.5%
* The precincts with the highest turnouts were: Etna Township A 48.1%; Granville Village B 48.0%; Harrison Township A 48.0%; and Union Township A 47.0%.
* Hanover had the largest turnout of cities and villages with 38.1%
* Heath was the lowest turnout at 12.8% but had no contested elections.
* St. Albans Township had the lowest turnout of the townships at 16.4%.
* Granville Township had the largest turnout of the townships at 45.4%.
* The closest races in the county were:
Kim Keethler Ball leads Matt McGowan by 2 votes for Granville Village Council:
Annelle Porter leads Andrea Chapman by 4 votes for Hebron Village Council.
Hartford Township property tax leads by 4 votes.
Liberty Township property tax leads by 5 votes.

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