Angela Knoblock can’t remember if she voted in 2014.
“My husband tells me I should be more involved politically,” she said while leaving a store at First & Main in Hudson with a shopping bag in hand.
But this year was unforgettably different. She dropped the kids off at school Tuesday morning and went straight to vote, a tingling sensation pulsing through her as she filled out a ballot.
“I felt proud,” she said with a smile. “I went to the polls this time because we had a local candidate I strongly believed in.”
National politics and the love-hate relationship with President Donald Trump fueled turnout in Tuesday’s midterm elections. And the blue wave of Democratic enthusiasm sweeping from coast to coast did crash here. But Ohio Republicans in Congress stayed dry behind political levees. Decades of political domination wrought the benefit of drawing the maps favorable to conservatives who have established a deep roster of well-known candidates.
All statewide races went to the Republicans, with the exception of Democrats adding two members to the Republican-controlled Supreme Court.
Across Ohio, the percent of registered voters participating jumped 14 points from 40.6 percent of registered voters in 2014 to 55.3 percent this year. Voter turnout still lagged behind the 2016 presidential election year, when 71.3 percent of registered Ohio voters cast their ballots.
A closer look makes the case for competitiveness as a means to boost voter participation.
In the suburbs north of Akron, Columbus and Cincinnati, Democrats gave conservatives reason to doubt their dominance. In each area, turnout swelled by 20 percentage points or more.
With the exposure of national media, Democrat Aftab Pureval fell to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican, in the race to represent the Cincinnati area. In the Columbus area, Democratic challenger Danny O’Connor lost, for a second time this year and by a bigger margin, to Republican U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson.
In a third race, though, the Democrat prevailed. Hudson Councilman Casey Weinstein beat Stow Councilman Mike Rasor with the help of a few hundred activated voters like Knoblock.
These three races, the first two for Congress and the last for the statehouse, covered eight of the 10 Ohio House districts (out of 99) with the most votes cast Tuesday. Across Ohio, more competitive local and national races, especially when stacked, tended to result in higher voter turnout, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of the unofficial results of Tuesday’s election.
In the northeast
Overall, midterm-to-midterm turnout notched up 18 percentage points in Summit County to 57 percent of all registered voters. Only five counties posted more impressive gains, including Medina, where participation surged 20 points.
Elsewhere in the region, Wayne County was No. 14 from the top, Portage County 19 and Stark County, which lagged the average state gain by a point, finished 38 out of 88 counties.
“Good for us,” Joe Koudelka said after learning that turnout in his city of Twinsburg jumped 21 percent this midterm election to 63 percent.
There wasn’t much interesting on the local ballot, the retired accountant and regular voter said Wednesday afternoon outside the library. “My friends were very motivated from a national perspective.”
“I would have voted anyway,” Koudelka said, thinking about how national politics impacted his choice.
“It motivated me more along party lines,” he said of voting strictly Democrat. “I wouldn’t have done that in any other election.”
Seven of the 11 Summit County communities with the largest voting gains are littered with political yard signs for the Rasor-Weinstein race, U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce's hard-fought victory and Kristina Daley Roegner’s successful bid for the only Ohio Senate race in Summit County this year. The trifecta of races layered over northeast Summit County created a perfect storm pushing voters into polling places.
Then there were the local issues.
An income tax for police, fire and the service department in Macedonia squeezed on the ballot with four city charter amendments. “I wanted to make sure I put my two cents in” on the income tax increase, said Keith Brown, a Macedonia resident and college counselor who said he enjoys lower federal taxes. “And I don’t agree with all the buzz about the vote being a referendum on Trump.”
The income tax issues passed in Macedonia, which saw 68 percent of registered voters turn out to vote this year.
Cynthia Farmer, a Reminderville retiree who used to drive 18-wheelers, said she voted for equality and against Trump.
“Inequality anywhere is just not good,” Farmer said.
Across southern Summit County, turnout climbed slower than the county average everywhere but Green and Norton. Again, local issues require special attention.
Norton voters faced a dizzying six charter amendments and a school income tax that passed. About 64 percent of registered voters in that community cast ballots this year.
Only Twinsburg had as many local issues on the ballot. Macedonia, which reported the highest increase in voter turnout at 25 points above 2014 levels, had the second most number of local issues with five.
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.