Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

In spite of two money issues, some hotly contested statewide races and a three-way local race for common pleas judge, local elections officials are not expecting a mad rush to the polls Tuesday.

“I told the Secretary of State’s Office I was predicting 10,490,” Lawrence County Board of Elections Director Mary Wipert said. “It’s not going to be too big.”

Statewide, approximately 25 percent of Ohio’s 7.7 million registered voters are expected to vote in Tuesday’s primary election, according to figures from the office of Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Email newsletter signup

In the 2002 primary, the last time voters selected candidates for governor and other statewide offices, turnout was 19 percent. In 1998, turnout was 28 percent.

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The absentee vote

Many people are opting to forego standing in line on election day. Wipert said she expects as many as 2,500 people will cast an absentee ballot.

“That’s a lot for a primary. We usually don’t do more than 500, 600 for Republicans and about 600 for Democrats,” she said. “We have a total of 2,000 absentees right now. Almost 300 are Democrats. Some are Independent but not a lot.”

Wipert said the common pleas race maybe a factor in the heavier-than-normal absentee balloting. Another factor is that the rules for absentee voting were altered earlier this year, making it easier to cast such a ballot.

New voting systems

This will be the first time the new voting machines are used in a county-wide election. The optical scan systems were used the first time in February for the special Ironton school bond levy election.

In spite of the newness, Wipert said anyone can and should be able to use the new system, so long as they read the ballot and follow the instructions.

Serving your fellow man

Each election, some 336 people spend their election day at the county’s 46 polling locations, ensuring their neighbors will be able to exercise their civic right. Phyllis Spanner is one of them.

“I retired and I thought this wouldn’t be a bad thing to do,” Spanner explained. That was two elections ago. She has now gotten her sister, Jan Sabo, involved. Both of them had been poll workers years ago.

Spanner said she is glad to be back doing something she loves.

“The day goes by fast, and you get to see people you don’t always get to see,” Spanner said.

Election night totals

If rules are made to be broken, they are also made to be bent. In January, the Secretary of State’s Office decreed that in future elections, absentee ballots would not be counted on election night but would instead be held and counted during the official tally that begins anywhere from 10 days to two weeks after the election. This drew fire from people across the state, including Wipert, who said such a rule change meant the outcome of some close races would not be known on election night and some futures would be in limbo because of this.

Wipert said most absentee ballots will be counted along with other regularly cast ones on election night, lessening the possibility that the outcome of races and issues remain up in the air.

The local purse

There are two local issues on Tuesday’s ballot. Lawrence Countians will decide the fate of a replacement levy to support the services of the Lawrence County Board of Mental Retardation/ Developmental Disabilities. The levy is not new. It would replace the levy in existence at this time to ensure that funding continues for MR/DD programs.

Voters in the Ironton City School District will decide the fate of a proposed $18 million bond issue and levy that would pay for new schools. Ironton is the only public school system in the county that does not have a levy and consequently does not have new schools. This is the third time the levy has been placed before the voters. It garnered close attention, both positively and negatively, both times.

“I think the levy is going to be the big thing (in Ironton),” Spanner predicted. “A lot of people, I think, will come out for that.”

There are no statewide issues on the primary ballot.

Statewide races

All state offices are up for grabs this year,. Also on the ballot are several state and U.S. representatives, state senators and one U.S. Senate seat.

Within the democratic party, there is speculation that this election year could be a turning point— the year that Ohioans vote Democratic on a wide scale.

“I think the Republicans have had so many scandals over the last several years,” Lawrence County Democratic Party chairman Craig Allen said. “ And we have outstanding candidates like

(Ted) Strickland, and I think there’s an excellent chance he will be our next governor.”

Lawrence County Auditor Ray T. Dutey agreed that this may not be a great year for the Grand Old Party.

“I think it’s going to be harder for Republican candidates this year but I think the governor’s race will be closer than what the polls show, between Jim Petro and Kenneth Blackwell,” he said. “But I think whoever wins will have a hard race with Strickland.”

In the governor’s race, Democrats will choose either U.S. Sixth District Congressman Ted Strickland or challenger Bryan Flannery to advance to the November election.

Strickland, of Lisbon, formerly of Lucasville, is a former college professor and ordained minister. He has also served as a children’s home director and prison psychologist. He was first elected to the U.S. Congress in 1993-94 and then again in 1997.

Flannery, of Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland, is an administrative consultant and former state legislator. He is also a former Lakewood City Councilman.

The winner of that race would then face Attorney General Jim Petro or Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, both of whom seek the Republican nomination for governor.

Petro is a former Cuyahoga County commissioner, state representative and state auditor. He was elected Attorney General in 2002.

Blackwell is a former Cincinnati City Council member and previously served as an official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has also served as state treasurer. He was elected secretary of state in 1998.

Two of the state’s largest newspapers, The Columbus Dispatch and The Cleveland Plain Dealer, have endorsed Strickland and Petro in the primary.

“In the governor’s race, primary-election voters should support Jim Petro or Ted Strickland. Both of them enjoy respect across the political aisle and, therefore, should be capable of building bipartisan consensus to find solutions to Ohio’s most-pressing problems,” the Columbus newspaper wrote.

Another race getting close attention is the sixth U.S. Congressional District. With Strickland seeking the governor’s office, the names of fellow Democrats Bob Carr and John S. Luchansky will appear on the ballot for that seat. Democrats may also select write-in candidate Charlie Wilson, who has gotten Strickland’s backing.

Carr, of Wellsville, works in the restoration of old buildings and cars. Luchansky, of Boardman, is unemployed.

Wilson, of St. Clairsville, is president of Wilson Funeral Home and is also owner of Wilson Realty Co.

He has served in both the Ohio house and senate.

There are four republicans seeking their party’s nomination for that seat: Danny Harmon, Richard D. Stobbs, Chuck Blasdel and Tim Ginter.

Harmon, of Quaker City, is a U.S. Air Force veteran and Noble County Commissioner. Ginter, is an East Liverpool minister. Stobbs, of Dillonvale, is a deputy recorder with the Franklin County Recorder’s Office.

On the local front

Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton decided earlier this year to retire from the bench. No Democrats are seeking to replace him, but three fellow Republicans are. Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutors Charles Cooper and Kevin Waldo seek Walton’s office, as does magistrate John Kehoe.

All other county-wide offices are uncontested in the primary.

See everything appearing on the May 2 ballot on page 9A.