Bill Would End Special Elections

Aug 15, 2013

A state lawmaker wants to get rid of special elections to cut costs for taxpayers.

But opponents say it’s the start of a slippery slope. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Republican Representative John Becker of southwest Ohio says he wants to stop local governments and school districts from placing issues on the ballot in February and August.

Becker: “The entities that use those special elections—usually school boards but not always—they spend a lot—they’re very expensive—they spend a lot of local taxpayer dollars for the purpose of acquiring additional local tax payer dollars.”

These special elections are pricier than the primary or general elections because there are less entities taking on the burden of cost. The representative says the issues can wait until the usual elections in May and November.

But Brian Rothenberg, executive director of liberal think tank ProgressOhio, says it’s important for communities to utilize these special elections.

Rothenberg: “Because what it allows the local community to do is actually have a local debate without it being sucked up and forgotten by all the national candidates and statewide candidates that are running on the statewide tickets and the national tickets.”

Rothenberg claims the bill is just the latest example of the Legislature tinkering with Ohio’s election process. He says the state should be expanding access to elections, not reducing it.

So just how common are special elections in February and August. Data from the Secretary of State’s Office tracks these elections back to 2003. During that nine-year span there were 770 issues on the special election ballots. More than 50 percent of those issues were school levies.

Becker says his bill would stop school districts from repeatedly going to the voters.

Becker: “If they can’t get something passed on—you know—the first try or the second try or maybe the third try—there’s a problem there and the problem isn’t ‘you know we need more opportunities for them to spend more taxpayer money to acquire more taxpayer money.”

Michelle Francis, deputy director of legislative services for the Ohio School Board Association, says it’s not that simple.

Francis: “In many cases—districts will put a levy on the ballot to see what their community’s willing to support and once the community has spoken they may come back at a reduced amount—it may pass—or it may come back even a third time it just depends—but they’re wanting to find out what the community is willing to support.”

According to Francis, it takes a school levy an average of three times at the polls before voters approve it.

Rothenberg fears this attempt to eliminate the February and August elections is only the beginning.

Rothenberg: “This is a very slippery slope—I think what you’ll start to see more and more are trying to take away access for people to vote and the ability for people to go to the polls.”