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Published: Monday, 3/15/2010

Ohioans to weigh in on state's new statue

Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) says he will cast his vote for Milan-born inventor Thomas Alva Edison. Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills) says he will cast his vote for Milan-born inventor Thomas Alva Edison.

COLUMBUS - This is one election where you don't have to be 18 to vote. No need to register. Bring your friends, the more the merrier.

But ballot-box stuffing will be frowned upon, and there's no such thing as a secret ballot.

After several years of talk about which historic Ohioan should be cast in bronze or marble to represent the state in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, the people will get a chance to weigh in beginning Saturday.

Voters may cast ballots through June 12 by visiting the Statehouse or any of 35 sites affiliated with the Ohio Historical Society, the Cincinnati Museum Center, and the Cleveland-based Western Reserve Historical Society.

Ballots may be downloaded at www.legacyforohio.org and mailed or e-mailed for tabulating. But the ballots must be signed, and the signers must be Ohioans.

Ohio Historical Society spokesman Kim Schuette said efforts will be made to prevent abuses, but the process counts on the honesty of Ohioans.

"We want to engage people of all ages," she said. "We don't have the staffing to compare handwriting. It's not an official process. We want to gauge Ohioans' attitudes about who they think should represent them in Statuary Hall. Technically, it's not a real vote."

The results will not be binding on the bipartisan legislative committee that must make a final recommendation to the Ohio Senate and House. But Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), the committee's chairman, said he expects the vote to be the most important factor.

"We had two goals in mind," he said. "We wanted to get input from Ohioans from across the state on who should represent us in Statuary Hall. We also wanted to drive traffic to Ohio historical sites. We know that for the last couple of years, they've had difficult budgets, and an increase in traffic will help."

Mr. Wagoner said he will vote for inventor Thomas Alva Edison. And, since there are no age limits on voting, Mr. Wagoner said he will take his 6-year-old son, Mickey, with him when he does.

"He wants to vote for whoever invented Cedar Point, but he's not on the list," Mr. Wagoner said. No write-ins are allowed.

The committee is seeking a replacement in the hall for William Allen, a Democratic governor and congressman from Chillicothe who was popular in the late 1800s when Ohio's two statues were selected. But Allen's opposition to President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and his tolerance of slavery are not the image that Ohio wants to present.

The second statue of assassinated Republican President James Garfield will remain in Statuary Hall, which is in the U.S. Capitol.

In northwest Ohio, polling places include Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, the Cooke House in Sandusky, and, perhaps adding insult to injury, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. The 19th president failed to make the list of finalists, scoring a single vote from the legislative committee when it whittled the list of more than 90 nominees to 10 finalists.

History buffs visiting Cincinnati-area sites honoring Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant and Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe can cast votes for them. Or they can visit the Dunbar House on the grounds of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park to vote for flight's favorite siblings, the Wright Brothers.

But you won't find an official ballot box at the historic birthplace in Milan of prolific inventor Edison, who scored the most points last month when the legislative committee pared the list of contenders. The birthplace, purchased by the inventor to preserve it, is run by a private, family-affiliated foundation and is not connected to the state historical society.

That decision didn't please Robert L. Wheeler, Edison's great-great grandnephew and president of the Edison Birthplace Association Inc.

"I was shocked to find we are not a voting site," he said. "We have been a national historic site since 1965, and Edison came in first place when the committee chose the finalists. We're going to do what Edison did - work smart and work hard."

He said he believes the state could prevent abuse of the process while including other historic sites in Ohio.

"We don't stuff ballot boxes," he said. "We want a level playing field."

Also among the 10 finalists are James M. Ashley, the Toledo congressman who authored the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery; Jesse Owens, the Olympic and Ohio State University track star; Harriet Taylor Upton, the women's suffrage advocate; William McCulloch, the civil rights leader; Judith Resnik, an astronaut killed in the Challenger space shuttle disaster, and Albert Sabin, founder of the oral polio vaccine.

To appeal to classrooms across the state, the committee has recruited Paul LaRue, a history teacher at Washington Court House High School, whose students have had a hands-on role in the process.

Those students, some 180 miles from Toledo, had championed the placement of a statue of Ashley in Statuary Hall. Ashley placed fifth on the legislative committee's tally when it narrowed the list of finalists to 10.

Although he expects his students will still cast votes for their favorite, they are putting the same research skills they used to study Ashley to work in digging more deeply into the stories of the other nine candidates.

"To be honest, we kind of feel grateful to have gotten where we are," Mr. LaRue said. "But Jesse Owens also has such a rich story. So does Harriet Beecher Stowe. Judy Resnik, we never thought about that. What a great story! All 10 have just fabulous stories."

Contact Jim Provance at:


or 614-221-0496.

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