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The Basics – Elections

Background

Elections in the United States are the core of our democracy and political tradition. Elections keep officeholders accountable to the citizens they serve and provide an opportunity to change political leadership if the majority of the population feel that things are going in the wrong direction.

Elections for state and federal (and some local) offices include a Primary and a General Election. The Primary Election in Ohio is always the first Tuesday in May (except in the Presidential year—the Primary is moved to the first Tuesday in March). Primary Elections are between individuals of the same party running for the same office—these individuals are seeking their party’s nomination to be on the ballot in the General Election. Races for some offices may have an uncontested Primary (i.e. the GOP Primary for President in 2004) but others may have numerous candidates vying for their party’s nomination (i.e. the Democratic Primary for President in 2004). Unlike the Primary Election, the General Election is the same date for all states and is always the first Tuesday in November. The General Election pits those individuals who have won their party’s nominations against each other.

In addition to some of the information outlined above there are several specific issues that have significant impact on the outcome of elections including:

Term limits

The U.S. Constitution was altered after Franklin Roosevelt’s death to limit the terms of President’s to two terms. Similarly, the Ohio Constitution limits the Governor of Ohio and the other statewide elected officeholders to two four-year terms limits.

In 1992 the Ohio voters approved a ballot measure to limit the terms of the Ohio legislators in the Ohio General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the term limits on Ohio Members of Congress as unconstitutional, but the term limits for the members of the Ohio General Assembly remain. The first year term limits caused significant change in the General Assembly was in 2000 when over half of the current members were prohibited from seeking reelection.

Term limits in the Ohio General Assembly has had a number of impacts the most significant being the loss of institutional knowledge and experience as veteran legislators have been forced to leave office, being replaced by individuals who have very little background on the process or issues. Another impact has been the accelerated jockeying for future political offices or leadership among current legislators. Because of the limited time in one office many newly elected members of the legislature being immediately to position themselves for positions in leadership or to think about the next job they may have. Lastly, term limits has, at least in theory, given more power to the Governor, legislative staff and lobbyists as new legislators come into office with little or no knowledge and experience.

Legislative Districts

Federal Districts

U.S. Senate – Because each state has two members regardless of the size of population the census of does not impact the distribution of the members.

U.S. House of Representatives – The U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every ten years. Once the census is taken the process of redrawing the boundaries of Congressional districts occurs and is referred to as redistricting. The 435 Congressional Districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in population. For example, since the 1970s Ohio has lost 5 seats in Congress (from 23 down to 18) due to the shifts in population from the Midwest to other parts of the country. State legislatures are responsible for drawing the Congressional district boundaries and the process is very political.

Please click below to view the congressional district map.

State Districts

Ohio Senate – Similar to U.S. House of Representative, the drawing of the districts for members of the Ohio Senate occurs every ten years after the U.S. Census is taken. The process for drawing the state legislative (Senate and House) districts is called reapportionment. The Apportionment Board, which consists of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Auditor of State and two members of the General Assembly (one from each chamber and one from the majority party and one from the minority party), will pass legislation that includes the political subdivisions, or parts thereof, that are included in each district

Ohio House of Representatives – The districts for the Ohio House are also drawn as part of the apportionment process. In fact, each Ohio Senate district is comprised of three Ohio House of Representatives districts.

Click below to view the Ohio General Assembly legislative district map.

Campaign Finance

In general campaign finance deals with political contributions to candidates for elected offices. The laws governing contributions to federal, state and local candidates are different and different regulatory bodies govern them.

The debate about the influence of money in politics has waged for many decades but became more critical as political campaigns came to rely more heavily on expensive television advertising to get the candidates message out to the masses. Since the 1970’s there have been many revisions to the state and federal laws that govern campaigns. Some have suggested that all political contributions should be banned and view these contributions as legalized bribery. Others have successfully argued that political contributions are essentially a form of free speech, which the courts have largely agreed with. However, the courts have stated that limits on the amount individuals can contribute are valid and that all contributions should be disclosed for the public to see.

Despite increasing disclosure and transparency in the campaign finance laws there continues to be a debate about the role of money in politics and this is unlikely to change in the future. Some have used the analogy comparing money in politics to water finding cracks in concrete -- no matter how much regulation or changes in the law money will always find a way to influence the process.

Election timeframe, length of term and number of terms allowed

Federal Offices
Office Last Election Length of Terms Number of Terms Allowed
President/ Vice President 2012 4 years Two
U.S. Senate* 2010 & 2012 6 years Unlimited
U.S. House of Representative 2012 2 years Unlimited

* Every two years one-third the seats of the U.S. Senate are on the ballot



State Offices
Office Last Election Length of Terms Number of Terms Allowed
Governor/Lt. Governor 2010 4 years Two
Attorney General 2010 4 years Two
Auditor of State 2010 4 years Two
Secretary of State 2010 4 years Two
Treasurer of State 2010 4 years Two
Ohio Senate* 2010 & 2012 4 years Two
Ohio House of Representative 2012 2 years Four
Ohio Supreme Court 2010 6 years Age limit

* Every two years half of the seats in the Ohio Senate are on the ballot



County Offices
Office Last Election Length of Terms Number of Terms Allowed
Commissioner* 2010 & 2012 4 years Unlimited
Auditor 2010 4 years Unlimited
Recorder 2012 4 years Unlimited
Treasurer 2012 4 years Unlimited
Prosecuting Attorney 2012 4 years Unlimited
Sheriff 2012 4 years Unlimited
Coroner 2012 4 years Unlimited
Engineer 2012 4 years Unlimited
Clerk of Courts 2012 4 years Unlimited
       

* Two Commissioners are elected the year of the presidential election and one the year of the gubernatorial election.



Municipal Offices (Cities & Villages)
Office Last Election Length of Terms Number of Terms Allowed
Mayors 2009 4 years Unlimited
Council Members 2009 4 years Unlimited
Other officers (treasurer, etc.) 2009 4 years Unlimited


Township Offices
Office Last Election Length of Terms Number of Terms Allowed
Trustees 2009 4 years Unlimited
Clerks 2009 4 years Unlimited


Key Election-related Websites


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