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Primary Offers Very Few Clues

More than 1.5 million Ohio voters were “disenfranchised” during the primary election this year. Don’t blame Republicans or Democrats, though. Blame COVID-19.

Just 1.76 million people cast ballots in the election, the official date of which was Tuesday, according to unofficial returns from Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office. During the 2016 primary election, 3.30 million votes were counted.

Understand, these numbers are not complete, though they represent 100% of precincts throughout the state. A number of mailed-in absentee ballots and provisional ballots have yet to be added in — but they won’t alter the picture much.

The bottom line is depressing: Ohio has 7.77 million registered voters. Fewer than 23% of them cast ballots in the primary.

If you’re a fierce partisan, and there seem to be lots of them these days, interpreting the results will be difficult. Democrats may be tempted to rejoice, because there were 860,803 ballots cast in the presidential primary. It’s no surprise that Joe Biden won, with 623,186 votes. Die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters gave their guy 142,906 votes.

Incumbent President Donald Trump garnered just 682,843 votes. Don’t rejoice yet, Democrats; many Republicans didn’t bother to vote in the primary, but they will turn out Nov. 3.

Drawing any conclusions based on voter registration in Ohio is problematic, because of state law. In the Buckeye State, your registration is determined by which party’s ballot you chose for the primary election. If you choose neither Republican or Democrat, you are considered unaffiliated, and you can vote only on nonpartisan matters such as tax levies.

It appears that more than 200,000 people who cast ballots in this year’s primary chose to be unaffiliated. That’s a troubling comment on loss of faith in both major parties. Also worrisome is voter turnout for the primary — again, less than 23%.

COVID-19 had a severe effect on the election, which originally had been set for March 17. Voting for that day was canceled, almost literally at the last minute, and Election Day was rescheduled for Tuesday. But it wasn’t a real election day, in that only a few people, primarily those with disabilities, were permitted to vote in person Tuesday. Most Ohioans were required to use mail-in ballots.

Apparently, adjusting to that was too much trouble for many of them. Again, vote totals were down more than 1.5 million in comparison to the 2016 primary.

Your next question is which party’s voters were laziest. Again, because of the system of “registering” party affiliation by which ballot you choose, that’s difficult to say. Results of the last statewide elections, in 2018, offer the only statistical clue.

In that year’s primary, 54.78% of the votes for governor were cast by Republicans. Only 45.20% were from Democrats. This time around, the percentages were almost exactly reversed — despite the fact voters in both parties know who their presidential nominees will be.

My bet in November? The road to a gambler’s bankruptcy is paved with overconfidence in statistics. Even if I could legally bet on the Biden-Trump race in Ohio, I wouldn’t.

Too much can happen between now and November.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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