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Does Ohio's low primary voter turnout cinch a Kasich win in November?

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When it came time last Tuesday for Ohio's 7.7 million registered voters to declare their party allegiance, in order to send their chosen candidate to face all voters in six months on Tuesday, November 4th, less than 17 percent of eligible Buckeyes even bothered to make the effort. Participatory democracy sounds great in theory but it only works in practice when voters participate by voting on Election Day.

An analysis of Tuesday's vote shows that, of the 7,715,103 registered voters in the state, 1,307,004 or 16.94 percent voted. Gov. John Kasich, running unopposed, netted 554,592 votes, compared to 362,113 votes for Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. The generally dismal results of the primary election season should cause lots of worry for Ed FitzGerald, the Ohio Democratic Party's endorsed candidate.

As far behind in campaign cash as he is in voter awareness and name recognition, FitzGerald has more than these two mountains to climb as he tries to gain visibility with mainstream media for himself and his political platform. All the hard work that awaits him will be for naught if apathy among his voter base continues as sour as it was this week into fall. With a primary challenger, but winning with more than 80 percent of the vote, FitzGerald is banking on luring independent and moderate voters to switch leaders for the next four years by declaring he'll pretty much reverse Kasich accomplishments when and how he can, given he'll have a GOP-controlled legislature to fight at every turn.

It's to be expected that Gov. FitzGerald's political crusade to restore funding to local governments and schools, among other agenda goals, will be opposed in Ohio with the same zeal Ohio Congressman John Boehner has stymied the White House on one issue after another.

Voter turnout statistics available from the Ohio Secretary of State for this and previous years show the number of registered voters has declined four percent in nearly four years. The number of precincts have been reduced from 10,028 in 2010 to 9,160 today for a shrinkage rate of nearly nine percent. If voter enthusiasm continues to wane into the fall, as many pundits and prognosticators foretell it will, Democrats will suffer at both the national and state level. This midterm election year could look more like 2010, when Republicans charged into control in the U.S. House of Representatives, with 63 seat wins, and reclaimed control of the 99-seat Ohio House of Representatives.

The Ohio Senate has been in GOP hands since 1984, so with a Republican House to work with as opposed to fight, as happened briefly for a two-year term ending in 2010, Gov. Kasich has been assured friendly treatment in general, notwithstanding the inevitable skirmishes that arise when budgets are built. President Obama famously remarked after the disastrous 2010 midterms that Democrats got "shellacked" by the many wins Republicans dished out to Democrats that year of the rise of the Tea Party nationally and in Ohio. Then-citizen Kasich won, but barely. He defeated his recession-beleaguered opponent Gov. Strickland by a slim two-point margin out of a low total voter turnout of 49-percent.

The 77,127 statewide votes that pushed Kasich over the top would only fill Ohio State's world famous Horseshoe football stadium three-quarters full. But it was more than enough to take one-hundred percent control of the executive branch, and all the fruits and spoils of victory that go with it.

Ohio voting precincts are down, too, since 2002. Ohio still has 88 counties but 2596 fewer voting precincts today in them than a dozen years ago. In the primary election just four years ago, the state had a total of 10,028 voting precincts, 8,013,558 registered voters and 1,814,24 voters or 22.64 percent who turned out. In the General Election that year, precincts dipped to 9,881 and 49.22 percent or 3,956,045 voters voted.

In the 2006 primary election, Ohio had 11,283 voting precincts and 7,685,088 registered voters, but 24.28 percent or 1,866,091 voted. In the 2006 General Election, Ohio had 11,124 voting precincts and 7,860,052 registered voters, 53.25 percent or 4,185,597 who voted. In 2002, Ohio had 11,756 total precincts and 7,058,067 registered voters, 19.3 percent or 1,365,753 who voted. In the 2002 General Election, Ohio had 11,756 voting precincts, 7,113,826 registered voters, 47.18 percent or 3,356,285 who voted.

This is particularly important for the Democratic Party and its base, as one writer put it. Michael Tomasky predicts the Democrats’ problem this year will be motivating voters. The Democratic Party is terrified, he writes, that in the 2014 mid-term elections its base (African-Americans, Latinos, women, and young adults) will not show up and it will be unable to gain new support from the solidly Republican white working class. The result would be decisive Republican Senatorial and Gubernatorial gains that will be as difficult to unwind as the Republican redistricting of the last three years.

Washington Republicans have filibustered about 500 pieces of legislation that would help the middle class, Tomasky says, adding that it "just gives you a sense of how opposed they are to any progress -- has actually led to an increase in cynicism and discouragement among the people who were counting on us to fight for them. The conclusion is, well, nothing works. … And when [people] get discouraged, they don't vote." He postulates that "the congenital problem that Democrats have is in midterms especially, we don't vote."

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