- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Guess what, Ohio voters? There’s actually an election this Tuesday.

That’s right, there’s a statewide election that will decide the fate of three ballot proposals - on legislative redistricting, constitutional monopolies and marijuana legalization - as well as a host of local candidate contests and issues.

It’s been easy for voters to miss the 2015 contest with so much rhetoric already swirling around the 2016 presidential campaign. Even some 2016 congressional candidates are popping up in ads and on doorsteps like premature Christmas merchandise before Thanksgiving.

Here are five things to know about challenges facing 2015 ballot campaigns:

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JUSTIFIED CONFUSION

A woman walked into a Columbus early voting center recently asking to vote for Hillary Clinton. The voter was a year early. But such confusion is understandable - and it may be widespread.

Clinton and her Democratic and Republican rivals are campaigning daily, though the election for president is more than 12 months away - on Nov. 8, 2016. Republicans vying to win the presidential nomination have already held three televised debates. Campaigns are going strong in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states. Plus, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is one of the candidates.

Ohio’s presidential primary is March 15.

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BATTLEGROUND BARRAGE

Because Ohio is a battleground state, the early 2016 buzz is even louder than in many other states - exacerbating the invisibility of the 2015 campaign. One of the GOP presidential debates was even held in Cleveland.

Even in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, which won’t be decided until next fall, national groups are already pouring money into Ohio ads for and against Republican incumbent Rob Portman and would-be Democratic rival Ted Strickland, a former Ohio governor. Underwriters have included a group tied to the Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads organization and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In anticipation of a tight race, Portman even started going door-to-door this month.

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IT’S AN OFF-YEAR ELECTION

The American Policy Roundtable is a conservative policy group with a commitment to boosting election participation.

The group is so convinced that the presidential race is drowning out the 2015 election that they’ve bought an online ad. After a series of photos of the presidential contenders, it delivers a simple message: “Before we get to 2016, there is an election Nov. 3rd, 2015. Right?”

The group has come out against all three 2015 ballot initiatives, in part because it’s become easier for the governor and Legislature to change constitutional provisions and harder for outside groups to sue over such changes. They say odd-year constitutional amendments are the worst because so few people vote on them.

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MARIJUANA MEDIA MIGHT

Ohio is one of only a handful of states that allow ballot issues in off years, ostensibly because so few voters take part.

ResponsibleOhio, the marijuana legalization campaign behind Issue 3, targeted Ohio’s off-year election cycle in part because it’s cheaper. The deep-pocketed campaign has spent $12 million so far, effectively drowning out many of the year’s other messages. The campaign has involved a bud-shaped superhero sent to campuses, TV personality Montel Williams and high-profile surrogates including basketball great Oscar Robertson, “The Big O,” and pop idol Nick Lachey.

Opponents are struggling to keep pace. Bolstered by the Issue 2 proposal to ban constitutional monopolies, they’re running ads warning of marijuana-laced Gummi Bears available to kids if cannabis is legalized.

Backers of Issue 1, a bipartisan restricting proposal, have turned to creativity to draw attention. They hosted a competition seeking creative comics to promote their effort.

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ANTICIPATED LOW TURNOUT

Ohio’s secretary of state has not released an official 2015 turnout estimate, but early voting hints at extremely low turnout.

About 223,000 absentee ballot applications were pulled this year and, as of 10 days before the election, only 61,217 had been returned. That’s well below past years. In 2013, 332,543 people cast absentee ballots. In 2011, when the repeal of Senate Bill 5 limits on collective bargaining was on the ballot, 680,656 people cast absentee ballots.

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