Officials prepare for rare August primary: Here are the candidates and issues on local ballots

Area boards of elections are undertaking the herculean task of preparing for a statewide Aug. 2 primary to decide a handful of local races and issues.

Local elections boards certified candidates and issues last week. Besides party central committee races, there are no contested primaries in Montgomery County, one Republican race in Greene County, two Republican primaries and a Democratic primary in Warren County, two Republican primaries in Butler County and one Republican primary in Champaign County.

Some of these races will determine candidates to fill empty statehouse seats, and all of them are important. State lawmakers determine Ohio’s laws on hot-button topics such as abortion, guns, and responding to COVID-19.

The issues on local ballots are a Xenia city charter amendment, a levy for Ross Local Schools in Butler County, and a levy for Clark-Shawnee schools in Clark County.

The primary for statehouse races was originally scheduled for May 3, along with the primary for Ohio governor and U.S. Senate. But this year legislative maps are being redrawn as they are after every 10-year census, and maps created by the Ohio Redistricting Commission were repeatedly ruled an unconstitutional gerrymander favoring Republicans by the Ohio Supreme Court.

An impasse led a federal court on May 27 to order the state to have a primary for state House, Senate and party central committee seats using rejected maps this year while they come up with new maps for 2024. The Ohio Secretary of State issued a directive saying that while the election date changed to Aug. 2, the filing deadline for candidates was still in February.

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Elections officials are now trying to find tens of thousands of pollworkers statewide to handle this unusual summer election. Montgomery County alone needs 900 to 1,000 pollworkers

“In the beginning of August when everybody else is thinking about baseball or camping trips or family road trips or every other thing we do in the summer… it’s going to be a challenge to recruit enough pollworkers,” said Secretary of State Frank LaRose in a recent interview with this newspaper. “I’m confident we’ll do it.”

Pollworkers are paid for training and working Election Day. Pay averages about $100 to $150 and could be as high as $200 in some counties.

The Ohio General Assembly last week appropriated $20 million to LaRose’s office to help county elections boards cover the cost of the August election. LaRose previously said this special election will likely cost between $20 million and $25 million statewide.

Another obstacle is securing polling locations. Some places that normally host voting are booked for other events in August. Out of more than 100 polling locations in Montgomery County, so far six have said they won’t be available Aug. 2.

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jeff Rezabek said the county will send postcards notifying anyone whose polling location has moved.

Rezabek said he expects turnout to be “extremely low.” But he encouraged people to vote.

“It is always a great practice, whether it’s a primary, general election or special election that people get into the habit of participating in an election no matter what it is,” he said.

Old and new Ohio House maps (Partisan lean source: Dave’s Redistricting)

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Competitive races

The trick for candidates in the Aug. 2 primary will be getting supporters out to vote without the top-ticket statewide or federal races that usually drive turnout.

One of the most competitive races is for the 56th House District in Warren County, where incumbent Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason, is term-limited. That race has both a Democratic and Republican primary.

The two Republican candidates are former Mason mayor and current Councilwoman Kathy Grossmann and current Lebanon Vice Mayor Adam Matthews.

Both Grossmann and Matthews said they would have preferred to run in May, and are contemplating how best to introduce themselves and their conservative credentials to voters outside their respective cities.

“We will be reaching out to everyone that voted in May, and everyone we know on our Christmas card list,” said Matthews.

Matthews said he is running on his record of achievements in Lebanon and hopes residents vote early or on Election Day “between their trip to the pool and Kings Island.”

Grossmann, who is term-limited on Mason city council said: “I wanted to seize this opportunity to continue serving the public.”

“I think this is largely going to center around the get-out-the-vote effort really,” she said.

The Democrats vying for the 56th House District are Joy Bennett and Sam Cao, both of Mason.

“We hope to turn out voters through grassroots activism and going door to door,” Cao said. “We also hope to use YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter as means of engaging our voters, especially the ones we cannot reach physically otherwise.”

Bennett did not return a message seeking comment.

Another three-way primary for House District 85 — which includes Champaign County — will decide who will replace term-limited state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana. No Democrat has filed to run for that seat.

Old and new Ohio Senate maps (Partisan lean source: Dave’s Redistricting)

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Voter confusion

That 56th House District is the only Democratic primary in the region. In fact, several local races have no Democrats running at all. This includes the state Senate district including parts of Butler, Montgomery, and Darke counties and all of Miami and Preble counties. Incumbent Sen. Stephen Huffman, R-Tipp City, faces no Republican or Democratic challenger.

Likewise, state Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton, is unopposed by any other Democrats or Republicans to represent most of Dayton and now Riverside.

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Montgomery County Board of Elections Chairwoman Rhine McLin, a Democrat who previously served in Huffman’s Senate district, said the redistricting made it hard to find candidates because it wasn’t clear what the boundaries of the districts would be until after the filing deadline.

“You couldn’t recruit with any specificity,” she said.

The only competitive primary in Greene County is for House District 70. Incumbent state Rep. Brian Lampton, R-Beavercreek, said he is concerned the new maps will confuse voters and these important races will be decided by tiny turnout.

“In this case, the votes of a potentially small minority will decide who represents them in the State House,” he said. “The top priority of my campaign is to get out the vote. We want to encourage every registered voter to participate and vote in the primary.”

Lampton’s Republican challenger, Katherine Shutte of Beavercreek, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Here are the competitive races and issues in the Aug. 2 ballot:

House District 46 (Northeastern Butler County, including Monroe and Middletown)

Republican primary

- Thomas Hall (Incumbent)

- Matt King

House District 47 (Central and northwest Butler County including Hamilton and Oxford

Republican primary

- Sara Carruthers (Incumbent)

- Cody Harper

House District 55 (Eastern and northern Warren County, including Springboro)

Republican primary

- Thomas Goodwin

- Scott Lipps (Incumbent)

House District 56 (Central and southwest Warren County, including Lebanon and Mason)

Democrat primary

- Joy Bennett

- Sam Cao

Republican primary

- Kathy Grossmann

- Adam Mathews

House District 70 (Western Greene County, including Beavercreek)

Republican primary

- Brian Lampton (Incumbent)

- Katherine Shutte

House District 85 (Champaign, Shelby and part of Logan counties)

Republican primary

- Lilli Johnson Vitale

- Tim Barhorst

- Rochiel Foulk

Issues

- Ross Local School District will ask voters to decide on a 5-year, 7.99-mill, emergency property tax levy.

- Clark-Shawnee Local School District will ask voters to approve a substitute 12.1-mill property tax levy to replace two existing emergency levies.

- The city of Xenia is asking voters to approve amendments to the city charter to clarify rules for city council members and filling vacant seats, adding language that the city must comply with Ohio’s Uniform Tax Levy Law, and specifying that Ohio Ethics Law applies to all city officials and its employees.


Aug. 2 Primary Election Key Dates

Today: Voters can submit or mail written requests for absentee ballots to vote in the Aug. 2 election to their local board of elections.

July 5: Deadline to register to vote in Aug. 2 election

July 6: Early in-person absentee voting begins; Boards of election begin mailing requested absentee ballots.

July 30: Applications for absentee ballots to be mailed for Aug. 2 election must be received by noon. Though this is the deadline set in law, election officials warn that waiting until this deadline may make it hard to vote by mail because of delivery times.

Aug. 2: Election Day. Polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.