COLUMBUS— Both sides of Ohio's nationally watched collective bargaining fight made last-minute appeals to draw voters to the polls Tuesday in an unusually vigorous off-year election that will decide the fate of the new union-limiting law, two more statewide issues and two big-city mayoral races.
An e-mail from Democratic President Barack Obama's re-election campaign reminded supporters that Tuesday's results affect national politics and urged them to oppose the law that limits the bargaining abilities of 350,000 unionized public workers. Republican Gov. John Kasich continued to defend the measure he signed this spring, saying it's key to saving jobs and helping Ohio's economy.
Voters also were deciding whether to let the state opt out of a federal health insurance mandate, a decision that would have little legal impact, and whether judges should be able to remain on the bench through age 75. Akron and Columbus were electing mayors.
The fight over the collective bargaining law, Senate Bill 5, was expected to attract potentially record crowds of voters for an off-year election.
In the county that includes Columbus, people lined up outside polling places before they opened, and voting remained steady to heavy, said Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections.
"One precinct told me today that this looks more like a presidential election primary, in that it's heavier than the usual off-year election," he said.
The union law was the hot topic for 18-year-old Rachel Schultz and other students who waited five to 10 minutes to vote at Ohio State University's student union. Schultz, whose father is a policeman in Hamilton, said she voted to strike down the law.
"He deserves the right to negotiate on his stuff," she said.
Others favored the limits on public employees.
"I think they should have to pay their fair share like the rest of us," said Jane Boden, a non-union nurse and self-described independent from Anderson Township in suburban Cincinnati. She said she felt safety forces used misleading advertising on the issue.
"They pretend that if the issue passes, they won't be able to protect public safety," said Boden, 64. "Those are fear tactics, and they are treating the public as though we are stupid."
The effort to turn back the bargaining law has pitted unions representing police, firefighters, teachers, prison guards and other government employees against Republicans at the Statehouse seeking to limit labor's reach and reduce government costs.
The measure, which appeared as Issue 2 on the ballot, allows bargaining on wages, conditions and some equipment. It outlaws public worker strikes, scraps binding arbitration and prevents promotions based solely on seniority.
We Are Ohio, the union-backed coalition opposing the law, had significant leads in both fundraising and polls heading into Election Day, building off anger over the bill that prompted days of Statehouse protests earlier this year.
Issue 1 asked voters whether to raise the age limit for judges from 70 to 75, potentially affecting 10 percent of sitting judges over the next six years.
The third issue asked voters to amend Ohio's constitution to let the state opt out of a provision of the 2009 federal health care overhaul, which mandates that most Americans purchase health care. The measure will have limited legal impact, as federal laws generally trump state laws, but backers hope it can send a message to Washington on opposition to the mandates.
Opponents of the amendment say its broad wording could have unintended consequences on state health care laws.
The Ohio Secretary of State's office said no major voting problems were reported in the first half of the day, though several voter terminals at a suburban Columbus elementary school were briefly evacuated while firefighters checked a gas odor.
Voters in Columbus were deciding whether to retain Democratic Mayor Michael Coleman for a fourth term or elect Republican Earl Smith, a former police sergeant.