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STOW -- Should Stow's primary election be moved to an earlier date? That's not a question voters will be asked in November. But they may consider whether to eliminate the primary altogether.
City Council voted down 5-2 on April 13 an ordinance that would have placed an issue on the November ballot amending the city's charter to move the primary from September to May.
Council President Mike Rasor, who introduced the ordinance in December, and Councilor Brian D'Antonio voted in favor. Council Vice President Matt Riehl and councilors Bob Adaska, Jim Costello, Brian Lowdermilk and John Pribonic voted no.
Meanwhile, Council gave second reading to a competing ordinance, introduced by Riehl on March 23, that would eliminate the primary altogether.
"My opinion is we don't need primaries. That's backed up by empirical evidence," said Riehl.
Rasor had suggested, through a motion Council approved 4-3, that if both measures were placed on the ballot and both won, Riehl's would automatically supersede Rasor's.
"I would want my proposal to take a back seat to Matt's," said Rasor.
But while they have not expressed outright opposition to Rasor's proposal, Pribonic and Costello said they were not ready to support it.
Adaska has said that he too does not want to rush into a decision and Lowdermilk said he prefers Riehl's proposal.
"I'm still of the opinion that no primary is probably the appropriate one to put forward at this point," said Lowdermilk. "In my opinion, that accomplishes everything we want to accomplish."
Before the vote, Mayor Sara Kline, who worked with Rasor on his proposal, urged Council not to put both measures on the ballot. She offered to try and mediate a compromise between the two proposals, saying that as someone who is serving her last term due to term limits, she has nothing riding on the outcome. Kline said she believes that if both issues were placed on the ballot, it would be "confusing and somewhat damaging to the political reputation of this local government."
"What I'm talking about is the reputation of this institution as being well run, organized, competent and something that has merit and value," she said.
Rasor said, "I think we're doing the voters a service by giving three choices instead of two," including the choice of maintaining the September primary.
"It's a healthy thing. It doesn't make us look foolish," he said.
Rasor and Riehl
have offered reasons
Elections for Stow officials are non-partisan and primaries reduce the number of candidates. According to the city's charter, there is a primary for an elected office in the city when there are more than two candidates for mayor, finance director, law director and each ward Council seat and more than six candidates for the three Council-at-large seats. The top six vote getters for Council-at-large and top two for the other positions then move on to the general election in November.
Rasor has said moving primaries up would both increase voting access for Stow residents abroad, especially those serving in the military, as well as save money for the city.
In the 2016 general election, 16 Stow voters requested that absentee ballots be mailed to international addresses, many to military personnel serving overseas. Boards of elections are required to prepare the general election ballots at least 45 days in advance of election day.
However, in odd-numbered years, Stow's charter requires a September primary, which creates a problem. There are 56 days between a September primary and the November election. The board of elections is not permitted to canvass the results until 11 days after the primary. If there is a recount or any delays of even a day, then the board of elections would be unable 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.
Rasor has said that Stow would also save money by changing its primary to May. Election costs are spread across all of the Summit County communities who have an election on a given date.
More elections take place in May than in September, so the costs are spread out more.
Stow paid $34,472.28 for its primary in September 2015, but if that primary were in May, then Stow's cost would have been around $20,000, said Rasor.
In addition, if Akron also moves its primary to May, then Stow's savings could increase to around $30,000, 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 did not, costs would increase significantly for Stow. According to Rasor, for the September 2015 primary without Akron, costs for Stow's 27 precincts would have more than doubled in 2015.
Stow already pays for a May primary election on odd-numbered years when the Stow Municipal Court judges or clerk of court is on the ballot.
Riehl, meanwhile, has said the city paid $34,000 for the September 2015 primary to eliminate a single candidate and has paid $129,000 since 2007 to eliminate a total of nine candidates. He further noted that primaries since 2007 have averaged voter turnouts of a little under 11 percent, with 2015's turnout at just 5.5 percent. Riehl has said all this makes primaries "wasteful" no matter when they take place.
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