COMMENTARY: Virginia reminds us how every vote really does count

Ohio’s neighboring state once-removed, Virginia, showed last week why every vote counts in American elections. To break a tie in a Virginia House of Delegates race, the State Board of Elections put the two contenders’ names in a bowl, then drew a winner. The GOP incumbent won, keeping the House of Delegates Republican-run. (If the Democratic contender, through further skirmishing, still lands the seat, control of the chamber would be split 50-50.)

In Ohio every vote counts, too, as data compiled by Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office demonstrates. “When we say, ‘One vote matters,’ it’s not just a saying – it has proven true 141 times in Ohio over the last five years,” said Husted, a suburban Columbus Republican, in a statement released last week. “Last November’s election was another reminder why eligible voters need to be active participants in the democratic process.”

Among examples Husted cited: In Montgomery County’s Phillipsburg, voters rejected, by just one vote, a proposed 0.5 percent boost in the municipal income tax rate (leaving the rate at 1.5 percent). And in Greater Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Heights, the winner of a council seat was decided by a coin toss – because of a tie.

Not all close contests are local. Even “statewides” can teeter. In 1990, Greater Cleveland Democrat Lee I. Fisher became attorney general by the memorable margin of 1,234 votes, besting the GOP candidate, then-state Sen. Paul E. Pfeifer of Bucyrus. (More than 3.36 million Ohioans voted in the Fisher-Pfeifer contest.)

And in 1889 (at the time, statewide elections were in odd-numbered years) Ashtabula County Republican Elbert L. Lampson, of Jefferson, from a long prominent local family, was elected lieutenant governor by just 22 votes. But Lampson only held the job for little more than two weeks: After his foe, William V. Marquis, a Bellefontaine Democrat, contested the election, the state Senate’s Democratic majority made Marquis lieutenant governor (a job that then included the Senate presidency).

Coincidentally, Husted, originally from Kettering, once speaker of Ohio’s House, is running for lieutenant governor as running mate of GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general. Other Republicans running for governor: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, of suburban Akron, and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth, whose running mate is Cincinnati City Council member Amy Murray.

Democrats have periodically griped about Republican Husted’s stewardship of elections. That’s what an opposition party is supposed to do. But with the usual ifs, ands and buts, it’s hard to argue Ohio isn’t more voter-friendly than it was, thanks to Husted’s advocacy and thanks to (some, not all) changes the legislature’s passed, especially “no fault” absentee voting.

Absentee voting, combined with the opportunity Ohioans have had since Jan. 1, 2017, to register online to vote, mean registration and voting absentee are comparatively simple. Husted’s statement said that since online registration took effect, “more than 8,300 Ohioans have (done so) and more than 492,000 Ohio voters have updated their information via the internet.”

So, yes, as in Newport News – that Virginia contest – as in Ohio: Twenty-nine of those 141 tied or one-vote-margin Ohio races and issues that Husted cited were held in 2017. What’s more, some of last century’s Ohio presidential contests were squeaky-narrow. Harry Truman carried Ohio by about 7,100 votes in 1948. Jimmy Carter carried Ohio by about 11,000 votes in 1976.

True — voter or non-voter, an Ohioan, like a Cleveland Browns fan, has a lifetime right to gripe about the cards he or she’s been dealt. Difference: The fan can’t pick another dealer. The voter can.