Ohio Voters Are Sick and Tired of Deciding the Fate of the Universe

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The voters who live in this house matter 1,000 times more than you.
Photo: Kevin Roose

Every four years, the American people ask themselves a important question: Why, again, do we let Ohio decide the fate of the free world?

"That any one state should posses such outsize power over the country’s political destiny strikes me as outrageous on its face," Walter Kirn wrote earlier this month. Kirn, a native Buckeye dismissive of the state's importance, called Ohio's power to determine the outcome of the election "positively terrifying."

Here in Cuyahoga County — a perennial heavy-traffic destination for presidential hopefuls, and a place both Mitt Romney and Joe Biden made last-minute stops today — few seem to see the wisdom in it, either. Surely it must be some other state's turn to receive hourly robo-calls, wall-to-wall TV ads, and peer pressure from the other 49? Florida may have had its hanging-chad-in-the-sun moment in 2000, but ever since, the entire state of Ohio has been transformed into the "I'm tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney" baby.

"It's ridiculous," said Mike Campbell, who stood in front of a row of yard signs near Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights after casting his vote. "Every other week, the president is here. Shouldn't he be going to other states?" In Canton, Ohio, yesterday, a group of Malone University students groaned when asked about the election, and whom they were rooting for. "I don't care who wins — I just want it to be over," said a student named David. "I'm sick of hearing about Obama this, Romney that."

Much of the Ohioan ennui can be traced to the ever-elongating campaign cycle, and the unprecedented amounts of time and money that have gone into seeking out their votes.

"At night, I've been getting calls. I get calls on my cell phone. A friend of mine got a text message the other day telling him to watch some campaign video," said Bill Gruber, a Shaker Heights Obama supporter.

Ohio's electoral importance is enabled by its large population, winner-take-all electoral college votes, and the state's razor-thin red-blue divide. A national popular vote would effectively make Ohio no more important than any other state when it comes to electing presidents. Such a switch has been attempted, but has failed thus far, and you might think that places like Ohio are the reason.

After all, a constant influx of campaign workers must boost the state economy, campaign ads mean millions of dollars for local TV stations, and surely it must be nice to have your communal ego gently stroked by contestants for the World's Most Powerful Man every four years, right? Maybe not. In fact, after a presidential race in which they have once again been made the nation's most important voters, some Ohioans are ready to pass that mantel on.

Gruber, who has been hosting a group of five student campaign volunteers from Harvard at his house this week, said that while being overrun by presidential campaigns was "better than being ignored," he added that he hoped that the end of this election season would renew calls for a national popular vote, and that Ohioans would someday lose their preferred status.

"It would just make sense," he said.