Stow Voters may be asked next year to approve a change to the city's charter, moving Stow's primary date from September to May.
Mayor Sara Kline and Council President Mike Rasor say their purpose in making the proposal is to provide more time for people living overseas, such as military personnel, to receive their general election ballot and submit it before Election Day.
"If this helps even one military voter to receive his or her ballot on time, then this move is worthwhile," said Rasor.
The matter was on Council's Dec. 8 committee-of-the-whole meeting agenda and Rasor said he planned on introducing legislation for it during Council's regular meeting later that evening, but he did not expect Council to vote on it.
"I intend to use the full three readings to maximize the public feedback," said Rasor. "I don't believe it legally requires a public hearing, but we will have plenty of opportunities for residents to comment."
Rasor said that if Council approves the legislation, the charter amendment would go on the November 2017 general election ballot. If approved by voters, said Rasor, it would apply for the first time during the 2019 elections.
Kline stated, "Making this change will improve ballot access to individuals living overseas during elections. It is in the best interest of our community to ensure that we do all we can to encourage participation in the election process. I support this date change and hope that members of the community will agree that this proposal is a positive benefit."
In the 2016 general election, 16 Stow voters requested that absentee ballots be mailed to international addresses, many to military personnel serving overseas. State law requires the board of elections prepare the general election ballots at least 45 days in advance of Election Day. Because the 2016 primary election was held in March, the board of elections could easily meet this requirement.
But in odd-numbered years, Stow's charter requires a September primary, which causes a logistical problem for boards of elections. There are 56 days between a September primary and Election Day. The board of elections is not permitted to canvass the results until 11 days after the primary. If there is a recount or if even one day is lost, then the board of elections would be challenged to prepare the ballot in accordance with state law.
To account for this timing problem, the Ohio Secretary of State has instructed boards of elections to send two versions of the ballot to military voters. The first ballot omits any race that was affected by the September primary. The second ballot contains all races and issues. Often, the second ballot is never submitted.
A primary in May would resolve the timing problem and provide plenty of time for the board of elections to deliver ballots to voters who are overseas, even in the event of a recount.
According to Rasor, Stow also stands to save money by changing its primary to May. Election costs are spread across all of the Summit County communities who hold an election on a given date. More elections are held in May than in September, so the costs are spread over more districts. Stow paid $34,472.28 for its primary in September 2015. According to Rasor, if that primary were held instead in May, then Stow's cost would be around $20,000.
If Akron also moves its primary to May, then Stow's savings could be double, as Akron's 137 precincts would also share the cost of the May primary. But if Akron were to move its primary from September to May, but Stow remained in September, then Stow's 27 precincts would carry 25.7 percent of the cost across the entire county, as opposed to the 11.2 percent it paid in 2015.
Stow already pays for a May primary election on odd-numbered years that the Stow Municipal Court judges or clerk of court is on the ballot.
Akron, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, and Green also have September primaries.