Centralized defranchisement

Nov 3 2009, DAVID ESRATI 9440 votes. City of Dayton commission race.

July 13 2010 David Esrati 958 votes Democratic special primary, OH-3

add in 50 votes in part of Warren County, no results available in Highland County, and 28 votes in Clinton County with ZERO results on the Secretary of State page and you have the answer on what happens when election officials play with voting.

I’ll make no bones about it- running in OH-3 is a gigantic task. What was once a nice compact district, encompassing Montgomery County and ruled over by Tony Hall for years, has become an uncompetitive mess. To reach the voters in this district via TV would require a media buy of epic proportions- with buys required in Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton. Luckily the district will be redrawn for the next round, but- the process still hasn’t been decided.

Considering I was just on the ballot in November of last year- and received over 9K votes- losing to an unknown 25 year old was a surprise. Yes, he got the Dayton Daily News endorsement which included their usual dismissal of me, but that still means a lot of people who voted for me before sat home. Yes, parts of Dayton where I ran strong were cut out of this election thanks to the custom crafted Mike Turner district, but there was another factor at play: “Centralized Voting.”

In yet one more allowance of our government to the power of the internal combustion engine, the powers that be decided to use this election as a “test case” for centralized voting. Instead of the normal number of precincts (which was just reduced in redistricting last fall) the State Legislature in a 5am vote decided to allow Montgomery County to open just 4 polling places.

This was to save money– not the democratic process.

Even a State Legislator found that they “didn’t do what the law allowed” when he showed up to vote at Cox Arboretum to vote and was sent to the assigned Fairgrounds location (he claims that people were supposed to be able to go to ANY polling location- which should have been easily possible with the electronic poll books). The number of complaints I heard were many- from Trotwood voters who were told to vote at the Animal Resource Center- who also had to drive their grandmother from Jefferson TWP to the Fairgrounds- to the number of people in Huber Heights who came to vote (including a former Council member there) only to find they are part of John Boehner’s district.

Confusion ruled.

Many voters North were clutching their BOE notification- and said they had gone to the wrong part of Webster Street. And although the BOE had said that all locations were on bus routes- I didn’t see many voters heading to the Fairgrounds location from the bus stop between 6:30 and 9:30 am. Many thought this was going to be where they were going to vote in the future and were really mad.

But the sadder fact was- many just had no clue about the election when I was walking door to door- even though as the smug head of the Montgomery County BOE had told me on more than one occasion “every one got a mailing.”

Let’s talk about mailings

I work in advertising. The general rule of thumb when doing a direct mail campaign to a good targeted list is 2% is an awesome return rate. The BOE sent out cards to 230,000 registered HOUSEHOLDS- not voters in Montgomery County. Considering a 6k voter turnout (being generous) he got his 2% which is amazing- considering the notification made the design of the infamous “butterfly ballot” look like an award winning piece of graphic design. The absentee ballot request form was also a “winner” with over a 10% rejection rate because of it’s poor design. Even the absentee ballot envelope made people question what to do- was it a “special election” or a “primary”? A map on each notice would have helped.

Reality is, if they really wanted to save money- and get you to vote- why not just mail the ballots in the first place like in Oregon.

There were representatives from other counties and equipment makers here to observe the results. Lots of love for the idea of fewer polling locations forcing more people to either drive or vote absentee. If this turnout was supposed to be a validation of the idea of anything other than moving to vote by mail- it failed. MASSIVELY.

The process of voting in America

I’ve often said we have the best politicians money can buy. The process of informing voters has become big business- for the media companies, our supposed “fourth estate.” With newspaper readership dropping, and there still being a digital divide in this country- we’re seeing a move backwards from voting for all to voting only by those with money (advertising isn’t really designed to reach those without money- because they can’t buy anything)- now we’re moving the same way with our elections process.

If we hope to see a return to sanity in the process, the only logical solution is:

  • pay for elections out of tax dollars- eliminating all campaign contributions from the process
  • move to vote by mail
  • create a platform for voter education about candidates by distributing information to all voters equally

The goal of those in the role of elections overseers should be to improve voter participation and education- not just be impartial bean counters. Without these changes, democracy is taking a backseat to the power of the dollar.

To justify my three part solution: we now pay for the error of electing the best advertised or cash backed politician by way of their allegiances now being owed to those who donate to them. Eliminating the leash of the special interests would transform our politicians back into erudite and effective representatives.

Vote by mail takes the issue of the weather out of it. I stood for 4 hours in the pouring rain- to watch very few cars pull up- including one that pulled up- and sat- and left, rather than walk 100 feet in the downpour. Add in all the people who didn’t want to drive miles to the polls and you see my point.

Even with my attempts to educate voters by dropping over 2500 educational, non-partisan postcards all over town- many had no clue about the election. If they had received an informational ballot in a brochure, with a postage paid return ballot, many more would have voted.

I’m assuming if you are still reading this, you aren’t thinking this is just a sour grapes post. But here is my one statement of culpability in this colossal exercise in futility: The Boards of Elections in the counties that closed polling places failed miserably by NOT POSTING A SIGN AT THE NORMAL POLLING PLACES directing voters to their centralized location- like I posted early on election day (I thought that this was the case- up until 4:45 the day before the election). In fact- I had more than a few voters leave the polling place with a sign- with their centralized location circled- and a piece of tape- to post at their normal polls.

To me- this was the nail that closed the coffin on the “centralized polling” experiment- without doing this- the process was invalid.

Am I ok with losing? Will I bounce back to tilt at windmills again? I’ll leave that up to you. Maybe I should set a threshold of $10k has to be in the kitty before my next race, or I don’t run. Would I still like to run the Dayton Process– yes. Can I afford to take the time to do it? I won’t know for a while. The toll these campaigns has taken on my business has been real. Running for office isn’t easy for those with other responsibilities. We’re almost forced by the process we have to only be able to run those of means.

I wish Mr. Roberts the best in the bi-annual slaughter of the lambs- unless Turner gets caught in a wide stance or with cash in the freezer- he’ll be re-elected with a 20 point margin again.

To all my supporters, especially: Brian W. Brien D. Greg H. Josh S. Rick R. Mike R. and the people who donated- Thank you. To my incredible partner Teresa- I’m the luckiest man alive. To the people who continue to vote for me- I apologize for letting my opinions get in the way of getting elected- even if you agree with them. If there is one thing I should learn by now- voters seem to like less than more.

This is post 1507 on this site. There are 13,618 comments on this site. It’s been an honor to be a part of the community in this way for the last 4 years. I hope you get a representative elected some day who believes in this form of communication and uses it effectively to connect with voters to represent them with dignity and respect.

mea culpa mes amis, hasta la vista, sayonara

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