Low Turnout, Negative Campaigning Help Defeat Issue 1

Aug 3, 2016

For the third time in the last 50 years, Columbus voters have rejected incorporating districts into city council.

Issue 1 aimed to change Columbus City Council from seven at-large members to 13 members, with 10 members representing individual wards. In Tuesday's elections, the ballot measure was defeated by a nearly three-to-one margin.

Earlier in the day, the Franklin County Board of Elections predicted a light voter turnout. By 5:30pm that evening a polling station in Clintonville had seen a steady stream of some 200 voters.

Residents like Andy Schroeder came to support issue 1. He liked the idea of more representation, but still had his doubts.

"I’ve heard that it’s not particularly well written, and that there are lots of grey areas, so I’m a little concerned about that, but I think that being able to have more representation outweighs those doubts," said Schroeder.

Poll workers in the South Linden neighborhood said they hadn’t heard from many voters who supported Issue 1. Many like Patricia Ann Allen said they’re content with the current city council. 

Poll workers at the polling station at the Linden Rec center said they hadn't heard from many voters who supported Issue 1.
Credit Esther Honig / WOSU

"I back my mayor, I back my city council, cause I’m on their campaigns and I wouldn’t see nothing no different. They’re doing a great job and I’m proud of them, and they will always have my back and my support," said Allen. 

After polls closed at 7:30 p.m., Whitney Smith, a co-chair of Represent Columbus, a citizen's initiative campaign that put the issue on the ballot, gathered with supporters at the Lincoln Cafe on the Near Eastside.

From the beginning, things didn’t look great.

Early on, the Franklin County Board of Elections reported that absentee votes showed Issue 1 losing by a two-to-one.

Regardless, the other co-chair of Represent Columbus, John Beard, was still optimistic.

“I think you know if the voters do not approve Issue 1, that doesn’t mean the issue is dead,” said Beard. 

In July, Mayor Andrew Ginther responded to Issue 1 by forming a charter review committee that will evaluate city government, including district representation. That group could come to voters some time in the future with a plan that includes some forms of wards or districts.

By 9 p.m., election results rolled in, showing Issue 1 had been defeated in a landslide, with just over 49,000 ballots cast.

John Beard said the voter turnout in for the August election wasn’t to blame. 

Co Chairs of Represent Columbus, Johnathan Beard and Whitney Smith announced their defeat at the results of Tuesday's election results.
Credit Esther Honig / WOSU

“We thought the special election would get us an informed electric, so folks who look at issues and consider them wisely. What we miscalculated was the amount of garbage being thrown at this campaign by the other side,” said Beard.

An opponent to Issue 1, James Ragland, a former mayoral candidate, believes it was rejected in part because city officials offered the alternative of a charter review committee.

“This city and its leaders were responding to what the public said, and even looking at Issue 1 and having it get on the ballot, and I believe what we’ve outlined for them moving forward is a more responsible approach and people responded to that,” said Ragland.

The mayor and city council will begin collecting applications from community members to serve on the charter review committee. From there, Columbus residents could have another opportunity to voice how they want their city government to look.