The 2008 election saw the highest national turnout since 1968, but voting numbers and voter knowledge both decrease the further people go down the ballot. While 5.71 million Ohioans voted for president in 2008, only 5.37 million voted in their congressional race, and 4.42 million voted in the top state Supreme Court race.
According to an August Pew Research study, that could be due to a lack of understanding of what each political body does. In the study, only 40 percent of respondents knew which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives (the Republicans).
Here’s a summary of the top offices on the Nov. 6 ballot and how they affect everyday Ohioans.
The president nominates the leaders of federal departments, setting the tone for U.S. policy in education, defense, transportation, human services and much more. He serves as the nation’s military commander in chief and diplomatic leader to the world.
The president nominates Supreme Court justices, who can change how laws are interpreted for decades to come. Miami University political science professor Bryan Marshall said the health care reform bill likely would have been overturned if not for the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by George W. Bush.
There are other ways presidents can affect policy. Miami University lecturer Chris Kelley brought up executive orders, such as the one issued by President Barack Obama this year to partially implement the Dream Act on immigration. Marshall mentioned the use of the presidential veto, which Bush used on a Medicaid spending bill in 2007.
In this year’s presidential race, Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney differ significantly on tax policy, energy policy and budget priorities.
U.S. House of Representatives
The House votes on federal legislation. Marshall said a two-year Congress usually passes about 400 bills, but the current Congress has passed 176, with 20 percent of those bills merely renaming post offices.
Some of the inaction is because Republicans control the House (242-193), while Democrats control the Senate (51-47-2), only the second two-year term since 1987 that the houses have been split.
Marshall pointed to the unpassed Farm Bill as an example of gridlock that could affect fuel and grocery prices. He said party tensions also have caused legislators to fund the government via temporary continuing resolutions, rather compromising on full-year budgets.
When one party controls both houses of Congress, more legislation gets passed, but the bills are often more contentious, such as Republicans’ 2003 tax cuts, or the Democrats’ 2009 stimulus and health-care reform bills.
Republicans currently represent all of Southwest Ohio’s districts. Barring a major surprise nationwide, the House is likely to stay under Republican control.
The Senate also votes on federal laws, but has some responsibilities the House does not. The Senate alone has the power to confirm or reject the president’s nominations of federal judges – from the Supreme Court to federal district judges in Ohio. The Senate also confirms or rejects cabinet secretaries like the secretary of state or the cirector of FEMA.
Ohio’s Republican senator, Rob Portman, is not yet up for re-election. Ohio’s Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, is being challenged by Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel.
If Democrats retain control of the Senate, more gridlock is likely, as each party would control half of Congress. Even if Republicans gain control, gridlock might remain, unless they change a Senate rule that requires a 60-vote supermajority to move a bill forward.
The General Assembly passes laws on everything from crime and punishment to taxes and regulation. Examples include when they decided to cut Ohioans’ income tax rates last decade and voted to limit public workers’ collective bargaining rights last year.
University of Dayton political science professor Nancy Martorano Miller said the biggest job of the state legislature is to pass a budget every two years, deciding how $28 billion per year gets divvied up between education, public safety, social welfare, transportation and other issues.
Republicans have firm control of the State House (59-40) and the State Senate (23-10). All House seats are up for election, as are half of the Senate seats.
Issue 2 — Redistricting
Voting rights groups and unions support a constitutional amendment to put congressional and statehouse redistricting in the hands of a politically balanced citizens board, instead of in elected politicians’ hands.
Backers say the new system will create more logical, competitive districts, which would reduce hyper-partisanship. Republicans, who currently control the map drawing process, are opposed and say the backers are liberals cloaked as good-government groups.
Miller says the current system all but assures that whichever party gets to draw the map will control the state legislature the next 10 years, regardless of who runs for office. She also said the amendment presents a complex system that could be difficult to implement.
Learn more about the Ohio Supreme Court races, county races and other issues on your ballot in our interactive voters guide at DaytonDailyNews.com/go/vote