Saturday, April 10, 2010

Will This Be A Sign Of The Times

GOP swelling as Ohio voters switch parties
Thursday,  April 8, 2010 2:55 AM

In what could be a worrisome sign for the party that controls the White House and Ohio governor's office, substantially more Democrats than Republicans are switching parties this year in early absentee-ballot requests from Ohio's largest counties.
That's a huge change from the 2008 Ohio primary, when far more Republicans than Democrats changed parties.
In Cuyahoga County, for example, the number of Democrats switching to the GOP outnumbered Republicans becoming Democrats by nearly 7 to 1 as of Tuesday. Two years ago, nearly five times as many Republicans switched in Ohio's largest county.
Democrats lead the party conversions by almost 9 to 1 in Hamilton County, while it's about 6 to 1 in Franklin County. Statewide totals aren't available, but the three counties contain about 30 percent of all registered voters in Ohio.
Experts say it's too soon to draw firm conclusions, but they think part of the reason for the change is that Republicans who switched for the heated Democratic presidential primary in Ohio two years ago are moving back to the GOP.
But the trend also could be another sign of concern for Democrats in midterm elections that historically have favored the party not in power in Washington, observers say.
"I think it's certainly a reflection on what I'll call a loss of their momentum," said Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political-science professor.
The trend also is emerging amid criticism of a directive that Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner issued last month requiring anyone switching major parties to sign a challenge form saying they support the principles of their new party.
Yesterday, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who faces Brunner in the May 4 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, called on Brunner to reverse the directive and end what he called "a loyalty oath."
His e-mailed comments were his most critical so far in the campaign, in which he has enjoyed a large fundraising advantage over Brunner but led by only single digits in recent polls, with many voters undecided.
The Brunner campaign did not respond, but Brunner has said her directive is merely a reminder of a state law that has been in place for decades - and that she has no power to waive Ohio law.
But interpretations of that law vary. As The Dispatch showed more than two years ago, counties were applying it differently: Some challenged everyone wanting to switch parties while others challenged virtually no one.
Critics also point out that the directive came four days before the start of absentee voting on March 30, forcing some counties to scramble to change procedures. Brunner's office says the directive was in the works for some time but was delayed by having to respond to unrelated lawsuits.
The directive requires any crossover voter to sign a form - under penalty of election falsification, a felony - that he or she "desires to be affiliated with and supports the principles" of the party whose ballots they are requesting.
Party affiliation in Ohio is determined by which party's ballot a voter requests in a primary, and the challenging of party-switchers is designed to prevent people in one party from interfering with the nominating process of another party.
In 2008, for example, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh encouraged Ohio Republicans to ignore the law and vote in the Democratic primary as part of "Operation Chaos" to prolong the Democratic nomination fight.
In Franklin County two years ago, about 5 percent of voters who requested the Democratic ballot were Republicans. But of the absentee requests so far this year, only 1 percent of those requesting Democratic ballots are Republicans - while 8 percent of Republican-ballot requests are from Democrats.
Seth Bringman, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said a small shift statewide isn't a major concern because Democrats had a registration advantage over Republicans of 1 million voters after the 2008 primary.

Statewide, the trend has swung back and forth during the past three primaries in even-number years, a Dispatch analysis shows.
More than twice as many Democrats switched to vote Republican in the 2006 primary, when there was a heated GOP race for governor. But in 2008, nearly 106,000 previous Republicans voted in the Democratic primary, compared with only about 17,500 Democrats requesting the Republican ballot that year.
Dispatch information specialist Julie Albert provided research for this story.

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