Ohio 3rd congressional district candidate Morgan Harper. Photo credit:

Progressive voters in central Ohio know that they should take the time to investigate the candidates and issues before they cast a ballot in the March 17 primary election. Being an educated voter is essential for the democratic process to work.

But people have very busy lives. Work and family obligations can take a lot of time and energy. It’s even harder if you’re a single parent, or you have to work several low-paying jobs to make ends meet. It’s much easier to vote with the sample ballot that the Franklin County Democratic Party mails to your home and distributes at your polling location.

The FCDP sample ballot lists the party’s candidate endorsements for the U.S. House; the Ohio House, Senate, and Supreme Court; and local offices, including the FCDP Central Committee who represent the 152 wards in Franklin County.

The sample ballot doesn’t encourage voters to educate themselves about the candidates and issues. It includes one simple directive: “Vote for every endorsed Democrat on your ballot.”

In other words, trust us. We’re looking out for what’s best for you, your family, your community, and the nation.

On January 23 the FCDP met at the Firefighters Local 67 union hall to finalize its endorsements for the sample ballot. “Laws are like sausages,” a proverb says. “It’s better not to see them being made.” I disagree when it comes to political endorsements. It may be unpleasant to see how the sausage is made, but I want to know before considering whether to eat it.

Jen House, chair of the candidate screening committee, explained the endorsement process. “We asked each candidate to submit a questionnaire about their backgrounds, their reasons for running, and other items that could come up during the campaign that the party should be made aware of — maybe something that could be used against us by the Republicans, or maybe just something they feel we need to know. Plus, we give each candidate an opportunity to give an opening statement.”

Then the screening committee vets each candidate. “We ask you serious questions about how you plan to win,” House said. “What are the issues that are important to you? Where do you stand on issues that are important to Democrats in Franklin County, and Democrats generally? And we ask them about issues that pertain particularly to the office that they're seeking.”

So far this seemed sensible and innocuous. But when the discussion turned to the endorsement for Ohio’s 3rd congressional district, things started to get ugly.

“I reached out to the candidate who’s challenging our incumbent several times before I finally received a response about our process,” House said. “She refused to participate, to complete our questionnaire, or to come in and screen. So we don't know very much about her other than what we can see on her website and on social media. Alternatively, we received a questionnaire and were able to screen Congresswoman Joyce Beatty.”

House went on to speak of incumbent Rep. Beatty in glowing terms. The screening committee unanimously recommended that the Central Committee endorse Beatty’s candidacy.

House didn’t speak the name of the candidate who is challenging Beatty in the 3rd district. She is Morgan Harper, a Justice Democrat who is running on a platform that includes a federal living minimum wage, affordable housing, the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, tuition-free public college, ending mass incarceration and deportation, and universal child care.

A moderate Democrat, Beatty has not taken a firm stand on any of these issues. This may be explained by more than $2 million in corporate PAC money Beatty has received over four terms in Congress. Harper refuses campaign donations from corporate PACs.

Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce spoke before the 3rd district endorsement vote. He also avoided saying Morgan Harper’s name, but he took her to task for refusing to participate in FCDP’s candidate screening.

“Now more than ever, we need people who are experienced, people who buy into the big-ticket concept, and most importantly, pay their dues and are part of the work that we are all working to accomplish,” Boyce said. “And so if you don't screen, you don't deserve our consideration. If you don't want to participate in our party, then don't be a part of our party.”

The Central Committee voted overwhelmingly to endorse Joyce Beatty.

Harper explained her reasons for sitting out the endorsement process in a phone interview. “I don't think the county party — or the state party — should be endorsing a particular Democrat over another when we have two credible Democrats running in a primary,” she said. “We should allow the primaries to be open and the party should spend resources in educating voters about their choices.

“A lot of folks I connected with in the 3rd district — both in early voting and at our community events — were really disheartened to learn that their party would be manipulating them and not educating them about all of their choices with the Democratic candidates who are going to be on the ballot,” Harper said.

Harper sees the FCDP’s endorsement process as “a way of protecting power. It’s a way to keep rewarding the same people and protect those who are empowered by their rules to keep them in positions. And that won’t happen if you're not playing by those rules. It makes it harder to to get the word out there.

“But I think that our community is really pushing back on that and starting to organize at the grassroots level,” Harper said. “We have a lot of candidates who are running as grassroots candidates for Central Committee this cycle, who are saying that this isn’t best that we can be as a Democratic Party. We want a different future. People have been writing letters to the editor in the Dispatch saying that they don't like the sample ballot."

This trend is “across generations and across racial backgrounds,” Harper said. “It is a true cross section of the diverse people who live in the 3rd district who don't believe that this is fair, and that the Democratic Party needs to change its procedures.”

The primary election is on Tuesday. If you don’t have much time to research the candidates and issues before then, the sample ballot issued by the Columbus chapter of Democratic Socialists of America lists the candidates who are the most committed to progressive change in Franklin County and beyond.

But don’t take my word for it. If you have questions about the DSA’s picks, google the candidates. Then google their opponents. Put some thought into it. It’s really not that hard.

Ohio 3rd congressional district candidate Morgan Harper. Photo credit: