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  • Wed, April 08, 2020 9:48 AM | Anonymous

    Five-Part Series on Primaries

    By Valerie Emmert

    Part V: How Do We Fix the System?

    As you contemplate the state of our election system, with Washington DC awash in money that drowns out constituent voices, jerrymandering that protects ideologues from being fired by the people, and decreasing party affiliation producing increasing extremism, you might feel hopeless that the direction can be reversed.

    Some have suggested term limits as a solution. Although term limits would provide more opportunity and incentive for increased citizen candidacies, big donors would still make their donations, and the safe districts would still exist as a barrier to broad-based candidate appeal in general elections.

    Some politicians who hold grudges afer losing primaries to less moderate candidates have embarked on a crusade against the primary system itself, proposing that all candidates appear on the same ballot in a primary regardless of party and that unaffiliated voters vote in these primaries without having to affiliate. Not only would such a system do nothing to eliminate the influence of the donor class over the behavior of elected officials, but would, in fact, do great harm to the competitive underpinnings of our election system, ultimately killing the two-party system. Instead, we should dedicate ourselves to a plan that would invigorate the primary system, which would likewise strengthen the competitiveness of our general elections and empower the electorate.

    For such a plan to succeed, both parties would naturally play a pivotal role. First, each party’s precinct representatives would need to commit themselves to engaging with the unaffiliated citizens in the precincts, promoting the importance of primary participation and encouraging affiliation. Encouraging voters to choose the party that BEST represents their political position on issues rather than disengaging because neither party TOTALLY represents those positions, is the key to forcing primary candidates toward the center of each party. As a result, general election candidates must move even closer to the center to win voters away from each other. As a result, the candidate ultimately elected has more common ground with constituents and colleagues and is therefore in a better position to compromise on legislation.

    Additionally, each party must fill central committee vacancies with precinct representatives who are committed to ongoing engagement with voters coupled with a determination to actively participate in all county party meetings in order to maintain citizen control of funding and endorsement of candidates, thereby keeping the donor class and candidates in check.

    We all have a responsibility to safeguard the continuation of the American experiment that is our Republic. By allowing ourselves to disengage from this civic duty out of frustration with the power struggle inherent to political life, we passively condone the incremental dismantling of what our forefathers sacrificed so dearly to bring forth.

  • Sat, March 28, 2020 10:51 AM | Michael O’Flaherty (Administrator)

    Faith Lyon, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said the Ohio Legislature recently set the primary election for April 28, and made it a “vote by mail” election. Ballots will be counted on the evening of the 28th, just as they would be any other election, with an “unofficial canvas” being released on the board’s website.

    View Details

    Please contact the board of elections to get your absentee ballot:

    Portage County Board of Elections - Absentee Voting

    You do NOT need to vote again if you have already voted.

  • Sat, March 21, 2020 11:32 AM | Anonymous

    Five-Part Series on Primaries

    By Valerie Emmert

    Part IV: How the Electoral College & Primary Systems Preserve Our Representative Government

    Lately it seems that every Presidential election cycle brings renewed discussion about abolishing the Electoral College and relying solely on the popular vote, which proponents claim is more fair; but is it really?

    Some in media and academia erroneously refer to our form of governance as a Democracy when it is actually a Democratic Republic. What’s the difference? In a pure Democracy, a majority of residents in a home owners’ association could adopt a policy of rejecting any application by a minority group of people—such as Latinos, for example. Simple majority rule. In a Republic, however, such a policy is against the law, protecting the minority from abuse by a majority. In our Democratic Republic, laws are made by an assembly elected by citizens in small geographically-partitioned groups, ensuring that all varied characteristics of the populace are represented.

    This principle is the foundation of the Electoral College System. Without the Electoral College, the sheer volume of voters in the larger, more populous states would deliver an election to a candidate, rendering moot the votes of citizens outside those states, effectively disenfranchising millions of citizens. Because Electoral College Delegates represent Congressional districts and so many of them are needed to win, a candidate’s platform must appeal to a wider and more diverse collective of voters. A candidate won’t win by appealing only to voters in the most populous states.

    The primary system functions on a similar principle. Most urban voters tend to support more liberal policies, while most rural voters tend to support more conservative policies, in general. Our two-party primary system helps to insure that competing philosophies of governance are represented on the general election ballot to give voters a distinct choice for the direction of the government. In cases where municipalities use a nonpartisan ballot where all candidates run to elect the top two vote-getters regardless of party for the general election, often both general election candidates are of the same party, having only insubstantial policy differences, leaving the voters with no distinct choice for the direction of their government. Were such a system implemented on a statewide or national level, the top two vote-getters would most certainly always be those with the most money or the most fame, not necessarily those whose platforms are most representative of voter preference.

  • Wed, March 11, 2020 10:43 AM | Michael O’Flaherty (Administrator)

    Five-Part Series on Primaries

    By Valerie Emmert

    Part III: Why Congress Doesn’t Get Things Done

    For the past two decades it seems like usually the Congress only passes meaningful legislation when either party holds enough seats to advance its own agenda. It looks like bipartisanship is dead. They don’t get along and they don’t get things done.

    On one hand, the discord between the parties serves a purpose. By competing for the upper hand in a constant power struggle, politicians are compelled to expose each other’s misdeeds, thereby informing the public and keeping each other somewhat honest. Without this healthy competition, politicians might—and even now sometimes do—crawl into bed together and collude to hide each other’s wrongdoing. On the other hand, the unhealthy distorted mirror image of this built-in competition has manifested itself in an unwillingness of politicians to collaborate on legislation that might give the opposition an advantage in an upcoming election. While there are those who blame partisan primaries, it is actually gerrymandering and the big money of PACs that are largely responsible for this distortion of these otherwise healthy adversarial relationships.

    We all know how expensive campaigning can be—especially on the state and federal level. Candidates most commonly accept money from PACs and wealthy individuals to afford advertising, staff, and mailings. The PACs usually collect money around an issue, such as gun rights, abortion, the environment, etc. Likewise, wealthy individuals tend to support a candidate in furtherance of their own interests, whether corporate or personal. It’s understood that in order to receive these monies, candidates pledge to support these interests if elected. Consequently, conflicts of interest are likely to develop between the national interest—or constituent interests—and the interests of the financiers. Politicians rarely vote against their financiers’ interests, lest it cost them campaign funds in the next election. Unfortunately, more often than not in such a conflict, the national or district interest loses.

    The problem is further compounded by gerrymandering. In districts that are “safe” for one party or the other, there’s no incentive for a Representative to collaborate with the opposition on legislation as there is in more competitive districts. To make matters worse, since parties work hard to avoid spending resources in contested primaries, especially in “safe” districts where any nominee of that party is guaranteed to win, these less centrist politicians are unlikely to be challenged within their own party.

    Reversing this trend will not be easy, but it is possible. One solution would be to redraw the U.S. House districts more competitively at the next opportunity, so that candidates must be more centrist to win in the General Election. Another solution would be to restrict candidates to accepting money from only those individuals who are eligible to vote in that district, which would prevent billionaires hijacking elections by financing candidates who, once elected, are beholden to the billionaire instead of to the electorate.

  • Mon, March 09, 2020 12:12 PM | Anonymous

    Five-Part Series on Primaries

    By Valerie Emmert

    Part II: Why the Parties Seem to Be Getting More Extreme

    We have all noticed that over the past couple of decades especially, it seems that more extreme candidates being elected in both parties, more so to the House than to the Senate. People blame deteriorating civility, gerrymandering. or even the primary system itself, even though primaries predate this phenomenon by over a century. Actually, I propose that, like everything in politics, it comes down to money.

    Computerized data-crunching has become the norm in determining the most efficient allocation of resources, increasingly, winning elections, especially on the state and federal level, has become a turnout competition.

    For example. data will show if a person voted in a primary and if so, for which party, but not for which candidate. In the past, parties, through their central committee representatives in each precinct, would use a primary contest to encourage unaffiliated voters to affiliate with the party that best matches their values, thereby growing their bases before a general election and infusing the party with more moderate voters. In the digital age, unaffiliated voters are generally ignored. In this case, each party has determined that it’s less expensive to distribute literature to only those voters who are affiliated with that party.

    In a general election, data will show if a person voted or not, but not for which candidate, because we all get the same ballot. In this case, both parties have concluded that it’s a waste of resources to engage voters that have not participated every November. Furthermore, the parties don’t fund candidates in areas where the data reflects an advantage for the opposing party. Of course, because neither party has enough money to compete in every race, it makes sense to invest in candidates in only the most competitive districts. Additionally, parties don’t spend resources in neighborhoods where their candidate is “safe” according to the data—meaning that the opposing candidate is at a turnout disadvantage.

    Two decades of this selective engagement have resulted in the growing extremism of elected officials, because without engagement with unaffiliated voters during primaries, only the most partisan voters participate, and, without party engagement of all voters in the general election, only the most self-motivated citizens participate. Another sad side effect of this data-driven model is that there are entire communities that see no voter engagement by either party because the party with the advantage sees no reason to allocate resources there, and the party with the disadvantage sees voter engagement in that community as a lost cause.

    Data is but one tool in a massive toolbox available to candidates for winning elections. Too much reliance on data, and too little engagement with unaffiliated voters, have resulted in a smaller and more extreme pool of voters in each party and a growing pool of unaffiliated voters who have become disengaged from political discourse through neglect. Our election system was designed to foster competition between opposing visions of government from which the voters could choose. As parties shrink and the unaffiliated voter pool grows, the short-term problem is the extremism we’re seeing; but in the long-term we risk a future where there are no parties to sell opposing visions of our future to the electorate, but rather where candidates instead win on wealth and celebrity.

  • Sat, March 07, 2020 11:56 AM | Anonymous

    WKBN - Candidates hoping to challenge Tim Ryan start Friday’s debate by criticizing the congressman

    Former Congressman Jim Renacci asked the questions, while Chairman Amanda Suffecool worked with him to present a thoughful and indepth set of questions to help the voters flesh out which candidate aligned with their views the most.

  • Tue, March 03, 2020 8:21 AM | Anonymous

    Five-Part Series on Primaries

    By Valerie Emmert

    Part I: Why Vote in Primaries?       

    Most people understand that the Primary Election is the process by which each political party chooses its nominee to face off in the General Election.  Naturally, when there are a lot of candidates from which to choose, there is increased excitement to participate.  Conversely, when there are few or no contested races on the primary ballot, turnout drops off.

     While the election of Party nominees is an important, and the most “sexy” purpose of Primaries, there are other equally important reasons to vote a partisan primary ballot—local party accountability through election of private party officers and insuring free and fair elections through citizen supervision as poll workers and challengers.

    First, voting in Primaries preserves the principle of competition on which our two-party system is based, by giving citizens an opportunity to align themselves with one or the other of two contradictory visions for our community and country.  Choosing to “affiliate” with a Party by voting its ballot gives each of us a voice in the direction of that Party’s platform by virtue of controlling who represents that Party on the General Election ballot.  Case in point: the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—the citizens vs. the political class of each party.

    Second, there are races for internal Party offices, which do not appear on the General Election ballot—County Central Committee and State Central Committee.  These offices make up the structure of the local County party organization and State party organization respectively.  These elected officers attend meetings to vote on which candidates receive party endorsements and money, elect Party Officers, etc.  By design, just as with our elected public officials, these Party officers are elected by and accountable to, the citizens they represent—citizens who identify with that Party in its primary.

    Finally, in keeping with the thread of competition that is woven throughout the fabric of our country—from the economy to our government structure of separate but equal branches—our election system has a built-in safeguard of citizen oversight of our elections—poll workers and challengers.  While their importance has gotten lost in the national debate over voter fraud and disenfranchisement as both Parties jockey for the upper hand in elections, poll workers and challengers are critical to keeping our elections free and fair.  By law, citizens must be affiliated with a Party in order to perform these oversight functions.

    In closing, while choosing a Party’s nominee might be the “sexiest” reason to request a Party’s ballot in a Primary Election, those who do so also have the opportunity to become their own arbiters of a free and fair election by holding Parties accountable for endorsements and funding of candidates or by overseeing elections as poll workers of challengers.

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