STOW -- Legislation that would change the timing of the city's future primary elections is still being deliberated by City Council.

The ordinance proposes placing an issue on the November general election ballot that, if approved, would amend the city's charter to move Stow's September primary to the prior May. If voters would approve the charter change, it would initially affect the 2019 elections.

Council President Mike Rasor, who worked on the proposal with Mayor Sara Kline, told the Stow Sentry that while he had thought there would be a vote at the March 9 meeting, some Councilmen were seeking future discussion on the issue.

The ordinance was introduced Dec. 8, but has been on hold since it was given second reading Feb. 9. Rasor has said that since the deadline for the November ballot wasn't until August, there was no rush to approve it and he wanted to give the public time to comment on it.

"I don't recall anyone coming to Council to oppose it. A lot of residents have contacted me in support of it," said Rasor in a March 8 email to the Stow Sentry.

"The administration fully supports this plan." said Kline during Council's initial discussion of the ordinance.

Proposed state law could also impact primaries

If a proposed change to state law takes effect, there may not be a primary for city candidates, who run in non-partisan races, at all during some election years.

The Ohio Senate has again moved legislation eliminating primary elections if races are not contested.

SB 10 passed on a vote of 32-0 and heads to the Ohio House for further consideration.

The bill would require that uncontested primary races not appear on ballots; candidates who filed for such races would automatically receive their party's nomination.

Likewise, special primaries for open congressional seats would not take place if only one candidate qualifies to run. The bill includes additional language for handling races in which candidates die, withdraw or are disqualified.

Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) proposed the law changes following a primary in southwestern Ohio to replace Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner. There was only one Democrat on the ballot for that special election, and fewer than 2,000 people voted.

"Under Ohio law, those counties that were part of that U.S. congressional district had to hold an election," LaRose said. "They still had to get the machines out of storage, they still had to rent the space, haul them out and get the poll workers to come in early in the morning and get everything up and running It cost us over $200 per vote to conduct a completely a useless election."

He added, "SB 10, very simply, saves taxpayer dollars and bolsters voter confidence."

The Ohio Senate passed similar legislation late last year, but the House did not act on it before the end of the session.

Two reasons cited for changing city charter

Rasor has said that changing the city's charter to move 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 under state law to prepare the general election ballots at least 45 days in advance of election day. Because the 2016 primary election was in March, this was no problem.

But in odd-numbered years, Stow's charter requires a September primary, which does cause 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.

"We are going to do something to make sure this problem is solved for the military overseas," Rasor told the Stow Sentry after the March 9 meeting. "We will give the voters the opportunity to change the charter."

Rasor has said a second reason is that Stow would 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 out more.

Stow paid $34,472.28 for its primary in September 2015, but if that primary were held 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 be double 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.

Editor's note: Marc Kovac, Capital Bureau chief, contributed to this report.


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