Ohio House committee continues debate on nixing August special elections

By: - November 30, 2022 4:43 am

A ballot counter machine. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

A proposal to remove August primary elections in Ohio is supported by a prominent conservative group and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, with both pointing to low voter turnout and high costs.

House Bill 458, which passed the Ohio House in 2021, seeks to get rid of August special elections except when a school district is in fiscal emergency or a special U.S. congressional election is necessary.

Certain “local offices, questions or issues” can be placed on a ballot if a U.S. House of Representatives special election is required, according to the bill.

On Tuesday at the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, the Buckeye Institute put its support behind the bill, saying restricting the August special election would save taxpayers money and get rid of an event that historically has low turnout.

Greg Lawson, research fellow for the institute, cited costs of the August 2022 election, which required another $20 million from the General Assembly to take place.

Part of the reason the August primary became complicated was due to gridlock on the state’s redistricting plans, which went through five legislative map revisions and two congressional rewrites, and remain unconstitutional, according to a bipartisan majority on the Ohio Supreme Court.

But the election saw less than 8% voter turnout, making it unreasonable for the state to continue with August’s event, Lawson said.

“If Ohio continues to allow a tiny fraction of voting taxpayers to pass levies while the vast majority of voters remain understandably more concerned with summer’s family vacations or getting the kids ready for the new school year, then our democratic self-government will suffer and the tail will continue to wag the dog,” according to Lawson.

The state’s elections chief, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, also stands in support of the bill, citing low turnout as one of his reasons as well.

“Those embarrassingly low voter turnout rates in the last two August elections are not an anomaly,” LaRose wrote in testimony to the committee. “Far more often than not, this is normal among counties that have an August special elections. Voters just don’t turn out.”

LaRose called the late-summer elections “unnecessary,” adding that they “aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials, voters or the civic health of our state.”

Notable opposition to the bill comes from education officials, who wrote in 2021 as the bill passed through a House committee that getting rid of the August election “undermines the ability of school districts and townships, which are funded primarily through property taxes, to sustain and raise critical funding.”

“We contend that the typically fewer items that appear on the August ballot serve as a key opportunity for districts to educate voters on the levy request and the needs of the district,” officials from the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Township Association wrote jointly to the committee.

Members of the education groups wrote again to the Senate committee now considering the bill, arguing the measure would have “negative implications for school districts” when it comes to bond issues used to improve school facilities through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and for renewal levies.

“While it is preferred to keep the August election to provide schools with as many opportunities to renew a levy as possible, making opportunities to renew an existing levy consistent would help districts in planning,” they wrote in offering amendments to the bill.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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