Franklin County Struggles with that Whole Patronage Thing

Here in Ohio, patronage is not just the lay of the land – it’s the law. Following a gubernatorial election, the winning party can choose its own workers to run the polls at each precinct the party carried. Whoever’s in charge of the precinct gets 95 bucks and the swanky new title of “presiding judge,” which looks damn impressive when you’re applying for that job at Discount Drug Mart. Still, leave it to Ohio to screw up even a simple chore like making somebody a judge for a day. Last year, Governor Ted Strickland swept Columbus’ Franklin County, winning all but 28 of the 854 precincts. But since the county’s been Republican-dominated for so long, the Board of Elections didn’t have a ready list of Democratic patronage workers. Now, with barely two months to go before mayoral and city council elections, it’s scrambling to fill openings at more than 500 precincts. According to board spokesman Ben Piscitelli, they’ve mailed letters to 15,000 Democratic households. But while 95 bucks in Cleveland is more than double the annual household income, it’s not much of an attraction in more prosperous Columbus. The board is now contemplating buying radio and TV ads. “We need people,” Piscitelli he says. “Failure is not an option.” -- Jason Nedley

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