If voters felt a weight on their back when they went to the polls Tuesday, it was real. Less than one out of every three registered voters (31 percent of 50,902 voters) in Hancock County bothered to exercise their right to vote in the general election. That means the minority made the call for the majority on an important county sales tax, local races and issues, and on statewide issues involving victims’ rights and prescription drug prices. The dismal turnout was about as poor statewide, at 30 percent. A lone bright spot in northwestern Ohio was Putnam County, where 40 percent of registered voters participated. That was the second-highest turnout in the state. Those who sat the election out, for whatever reason, owe a thank you to those who carried the load.
Spread too thin?
It hasn’t been easy in recent decades for a Democrat to break through the Republican stronghold in Hancock County government, and Tuesday’s election was another example of how hard it is. For the first time in recent history, three Democrats made a run at City Council, seeking three at-large seats. Standing in the way, though, were three Republican incumbents who were also running. Each of the three Democrats collected more than 2,000 votes, but each of the three Republicans got about 1,000 more. The Democrats’ failure to gain a council seat may have been due to having more than one party candidate on the ballot. Had there been one Democrat, we have to believe they would have gotten enough votes to win one of the spots. Still, the contested race was a good thing for Findlay politics. The challengers forced a contested general election, and added to the community conversation about city government this year. Even in a traditionally conservative city, it’s important to hear different voices.
The clock is now ticking
The only issue on the ballot in Hancock County that didn’t pass Tuesday was Issue 4, which means the commissioners will have some tough decisions to make in coming months. Had the quarter-percent sales tax passed, tax collections would have paid for an expansion of the county jail, maintenance of county buildings, and the consolidation of certain county offices into a centralized government building. But voters wanted no part of it, rejecting the idea by a 3-to-1 margin. While it’s hard to say exactly where the opposition came from, some certainly arose in the rural areas where there is still concern about certain proposed flood-control projects. The issue may have simply been too “big” for most voters to get their arms around. The issue called for a small jump in the sales tax, but for a period of 20 years. Separating the different projects from each other may be a better approach moving forward. Meanwhile, the county needs aren’t going away. Commissioners will have to find a way to address building repairs and growing costs related to crime and the opioid crisis. The county jail remains full, in need of maintenance, and the probate/juvenile court is still in need of major renovations. Business leaders pledged this fall to help bridge a divide between city and rural interests in flood control if the commissioners pulled another sales tax issue (for flood control) off the ballot, which the commissioners did. Now, with the flood tax scheduled to expire at year-end 2018, it’s time for all community players, city, county and business, to get on the same page.
Hancock County voters were part of the state trend in soundly approving state Issue 1 and soundly defeating Issue 2. While the county has existing programs in place that address victims’ rights, Issue 1 will strengthen them, and add rights to the state constitution. The defeat of Issue 2, meanwhile, means the high cost of prescription drugs will go unaddressed, but hopefully prompt national or state lawmakers to take up the cause. Regardless of how one voted on Issue 2, however, the amount of money spent in support of and against the issue suggests, again, how money influences our elections. While final campaign spending reports have yet to be filed, the proponents of Issue 2 have spent $17 million and the opposition $70 million.