The View from the 12th District

As a resident of Ohio’s suddenly-famous 12th Congressional District, I’ve observed the political drama surrounding last Tuesday’s special election here with a mixture of pride, amusement, and incredulity. I live in Licking County (a name that has always sent my West Coast friends into fits of laughter), and to see it splashed across interactive maps on national television was a bit unnerving, since Ohioans are nothing if not modest and self-effacing. It was a bit like watching your kid play in the Little League World Series (Wow, look at her out there! Wow, I hope she doesn’t screw up in front of all these people!).

Licking County is one of the three whole counties that, along with select parts of three others, make up the heavily gerrymandered 12th District. Until the last round of redistrictings following the 2010 census, Democrats were less of a minority in the 12th, but the boundaries established in 2011 shifted many Afro-American residents of Columbus to other districts and extended the 12th into deep-red farmland. The result is as Republican a district as an algorithm can produce, almost 90% white and more than 25% over the age of 55, which has not been represented by a Democrat since the 1980s.

So the obvious news out of the 12th District is that a Republican had no business losing it, and yet he may have.

As of this writing the outcome of the special election is still unclear. Republican Troy Balderson, in whose support Donald Trump flew into Columbus for a rally last weekend, ruining a lot of people’s post-Pelotonia party plans, and whose style of dress and hair color shifted considerably in the glare of publicity, has claimed victory over the youthful and largely color-free Democrat Danny O’Connor by a thousand or so of the 200,000 votes cast, but over 8000 provisional and absentee ballots remain to be tallied. Mystifyingly to those living in the 21st century, this process can’t begin until 10 days after Election Day, a rule that must harken to a time when there was a lot of heavy drinking on election night and ballots were transported by horse-drawn wagon.

On the other hand, these uncounted ballots generated some of the most instructive discussions of high-school algebra in local memory. A Columbus radio call-in show hostess was heard to proclaim that O’Connor would have to receive 80% of the uncounted votes to win, which was only off by about 20 percentage points.

And in a development perhaps reflecting Ohio’s aging demographic, O’Connor’s deficit was reduced by over a hundred votes when it was discovered that a number of ballots cast in largely Democratic Franklin County, which includes Columbus, had been temporarily “misplaced.”

Meanwhile there is no question that someone named Joe Manchik, of the Green Party, lost the election, unaccountably earning around a thousand votes that might have been put to much better use.  One burning question of this election is who those voters are and what they were thinking. I find myself peering with new curiosity at my neighbors in the local grocery.

If the eventual margin of victory is less than half a percentage point, as seems likely, a re-count is required under Ohio law. Needless to say, those of us who are relishing Licking County’s moment in the sun can hardly wait.

But the biggest question in the minds of many district voters is why we had to endure this special election drama at all.  Having been thoroughly harassed by email, text, phone calls, and door-to-door canvassers to get out there and vote, many of us were surprised to learn that the result is largely moot, that the whole process only serves to install a representative until November, when he will have to stand for election again, having spent every waking minute in between fundraising for that next run rather than on the business of the district.

This colossal waste of time and taxpayer money is the result of the decision of the former holder of the 12th District’s Congressional seat, Pat Tiberi, to quit last January, with only nine months to go in his term, to take a high-paying job with an Ohio business lobby, and the decision of the Ohio Secretary of State, Republican Jon Husted, to hold a special election in the dog days of August. The U.S. Constitution and Ohio statute require that a special election be held to fill a vacancy in office of representative to Congress, but don’t specify when that election must be held, and don’t preclude such an election from being held on the date of a general mid-term election, which would have saved the state money and saved we residents of the 12th District the pain of watching not one but two rounds of horribly misleading campaign ads.

So spare us the recount. Call it a draw, and we can do it for real in November.

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