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Next stop: November

We finally made it through Ohio’s on-again, off-again, on-again primary, and when the unofficial results were released Tuesday evening, there were no real surprises — but they do set up what likely will be an interesting run-up to the Nov. 3 general election.

While the White House showdown between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is likely to dominate the political discussion on the national level, those who follow local politics will have several interesting races to follow. And that includes the race that will decide who will replace Tom Gentile as a Jefferson County commissioner.

It features two political newcomers, Edward Littlejohn and Tony Morelli. Littlejohn won the Democratic nomination with a nearly two-to-one win over Steve Vukelic. Morelli, meanwhile, was unopposed in his bid for the Republican nomination.

Two other countywide races figure to attract some attention — one will feature longtime incumbent Republican Commissioner Dave Maple, who is being challenged by Democrat Bob Smith. The other will be the race for clerk of courts, which also will feature two newcomers, Republican Andrew Plesich and Democrat Darrin Corrigan. They will be looking to replace Corrigan’s father, longtime clerk John Corrigan, who decided not to seek re-election.

We can expect a spirited race for state representative, with Republican Ron Ferguson facing off against Democrat Richard Olivito, who defeated Charlie DiPalma Tuesday, and Libertarian Oscar Herrera. They will be looking to follow Democrat Jack Cera to Columbus. Cera could not seek re-election because of term limits.

There also were no surprises in the race for Ohio’s 6th Congressional District. Republican incumbent Bill Johnson handily stopped challenger Kenneth Morgan Tuesday. That sets up a rematch with Shawna Roberts, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Johnson defeated Roberts two years ago, claiming nearly 70 percent of the vote.

Of course, it’s likely independent candidates will be added to a couple of races once they are certified by the board of elections.

It means we are facing an interesting campaign season — whenever that can actually get started.

¯ While there were just a few issues on ballots in Jefferson County, an important one was decided in Toronto, where voters passed a 5-mill, five-year renewal for the city school district by a margin of 607-202. That was among 99 school-related issues that appeared on ballots across the state, according to the Ohio School Boards Association. The organization said 43 of the 46 tax renewals requested passed. Overall, Ohioans passed 64 percent of school-related issues.

¯ If you were not among the Ohioans who took advantage of the state’s early voting period, which began Feb. 19, you cast your vote by mail. It was the only option left after a health emergency was declared and the March 17 primary was postponed just a few hours before the polls were scheduled to open. Social distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders that have come about in response to the COVID-19 pandemic left no room for in-person voting.

In Jefferson County, turnout was listed at about 24 percent, which was less than the 28 percent turnout that had been predicted by board of election’s Director Dianne Gribble before the March 17 date.

In Harrison County, turnout was listed as 29 percent. Belmont County recorded turnout at 21 percent while Columbiana County reported turnout at 20 percent.

Those numbers are low when compared with primaries in presidential election years, but, given the circumstances — where voters had to request a ballot, receive a ballot by mail, fill it in and either return it by mail or to a drop-box at the board of elections — they actually aren’t too bad.

“Within the context of the threat of the virus, it’s a decision that we have made the best of,” according to Ken Blackwell. And when it comes to elections, Blackwell knows what he’s talking about. In addition to serving as Ohio’s secretary of state from 1999 to 2007, Blackwell is chairman of the Intentional Foundation for Electoral Systems, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit which, according to its website, engages with critical issues in democracy, governance and elections around the world.

According to Frank LaRose, our current secretary of state, there had been 1,975,806 ballots requested by the noon April 25 deadline. Numbers from LaRose’s office released Monday showed 12,411 ballots had been requested in Jefferson County, and 3,275 ballots had been requested in Harrison County. Requests in Columbiana County totaled 14,311 and in Belmont County totaled 10,654.

Gribble and her staff and election directors in area counties deserve to be commended for their efforts to make the election work.

¯ While things went smoothly Tuesday night in Jefferson County, and veteran followers of elections were quite happy to be able to have totals available early in the evening, there were a few glitches in other parts of the state.

In Washington County, for instance, issues with the board’s technical system meant results were not available until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Mandy Amos, director of the board of elections there, told Janelle Patterson of the Marietta Times a discrepancy had been discovered between the ballots that were processed and the coinciding tally of envelopes noting receipt of the ballots, which led about 200 of them to be flagged. The problem was eventually resolved, but it led to a long night.

¯ Questions already are being asked about how we will vote in November. No one knows for sure when social distancing restrictions will be relaxed to the point that we will be able to gather at polling places and vote in person, which has led to discussion about conducting future elections by mail. Not surprisingly, where you stand on that issue depends on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.

According to a poll conducted by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, while 46 percent of all adults favor allowing people to vote in person, when you break it down by party, 58 percent of Republicans are OK with that prospect while only 24 percent of Democrats surveyed were in favor. And, while 60 percent of Democrats surveyed would be in favor of allowing people to vote by mail only, just 37 percent of Republicans are in favor of that process.

¯ If you live in West Virginia and are planning to vote in the June 9 primary, keep in mind that you have until May 19 to register. Early voting in the Mountain State starts May 27.

¯ No matter what system we use in November, it’s important that you do vote. And, while the general election seems a long way off — it’s exactly six months away — it’s not too early to keep in mind that if you have not registered to vote and want to have your voice heard, the deadline to register in Ohio will be Oct. 5.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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