Rep. Stephen Hambley
Rep. Stephen Hambley

By Maggie Thurber
For Ohio Watchdog
http://watchdog.org/212823/ohio-special-elections/

The number of special elections held in February has declined over the years, which is one reason why Rep. Steve Hambley thinks they can be eliminated.

Hambley, like other legislators before him, believes Ohio’s February special election is a waste of taxpayer money and wants to get rid of it.

Hambley’s House Bill 81 would eliminate the February special election. His proposal preserves the August election so jurisdictions have time to place any approved tax items on property tax bills sent to property owners in January.

 

 

Ohio law grants municipalities and taxing districts four opportunities to appeal to voters: the May primary, the November general election, a special election in February (except during a presidential year) and a special election in August.

Two companion bills to eliminate both the February and August special elections were introduced in the House and Senate in 2014. They sat in committees without any action until the end of the legislative session.

Rep. John Becker, R-Union Township, who sponsored one of the previous bills, signed on as a co-sponsor for H.B. 81.

As a county commissioner who was a liaison to the county elections board, Hambley saw first-hand the myriad issues Ohio boards of elections must handle to hold a February election.

“February has bigger issues in terms of cost,” explained Hambley, a Republican from Brunswick. “It’s the most difficult time of year to staff an election and with early voting, you’re looking at staffing staring in January. Many of the regular workers are snowbirds and aren’t around then.”

Hambley said each special election has recruiting, training, supply and early voting costs that can add up for boards of elections and the counties that fund them. Taxpayers paid $84,000 for the August 2014 special election that encompassed just a few counties.

He also said campaigning for a February election has to occur in November and December, during the holiday season, and noted the nature of the August election is quite different.

“Do you know what it’s like to get people in the middle of December to pay attention to political issues or to campaign?” he asked. “People are more likely to be available during the middle of the summer.”

Hambley researched special elections, looking at passage rates and the number of issues on the ballot. He found no discernible pattern that indicated either month was better for passage than the other, but he did find that renewals of levies pass fairly easily while new or additional taxes, along with the new style of combination levies, have a much harder time gaining voter approval.

“Over the years,” he said, “you see less and less going on the ballot in February. I see that as a sign that more and more entities are seeing it’s not a good use of public dollars.”

According to data from the Ohio Secretary of State, there were 83 items that went before voters in the February special election in 2005, but only two in 2014. This year there were six measures before voters in February.

Taxing entities must pay the costs of the special elections using taxpayer money, Hambley noted. His bill would require 65 percent of that cost to be paid in advance, rather than after the election as current law prescribes.

He said the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Election Officials support his legislation.

The Ohio School Boards Association does not.

Just like with the prior bills, OSBA has continually opposed any measure that eliminates special elections.

“We believe the decision as to which time to place an issue on the ballot should be determined locally and not predetermined by the Legislature,” said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for OSBA.

“Statistics aside,” Asbury wrote in an email, “the local board is in the best position to determine timing, need and other circumstances. Also, levies pass and levies fail at all four election opportunities. From our vantage point there is no harm in multiple opportunities for the voters to speak.”

“We have had friendly conversation with Rep. Hambley and have, at least for the moment, agreed to disagree,” Asbury said.

Hambley said he remains open to discussions with opponents and proponents of his bill, which is pending in the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

For more information, go to: http://watchdog.org/212823/ohio-special-elections/

Maggie Thurber is a contributor to Ohio Watchdog. Contact her at maggie@ohiowatchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @maggie82.