AKRON — A lot of Summit County voters are going to be asked in November to move up the primary election dates in their communities from September to May starting in 2019.
A permanent change to an earlier primary date to coincide with Ohio’s statewide May primary will save taxpayer dollars and also make things easier for local military personnel stationed elsewhere, a group of mayors and other officials said Tuesday.
Elected officials in Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Green, Tallmadge, New Franklin, Barberton, and Norton are working to introduce local legislation that, if passed, would place the primary change date on their respective ballots in November. Each municipality’s legislative branch first needs to OK the measures.
Summit County is one of three counties — Cuyahoga and Lucas are the others — in the state with charters that call for September primaries, said Paula Sauter, deputy director of the county board of elections.
"Your local communities have banded together to push for instrumental changes in our voting process here in Summit County," Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said in kicking off the group press conference.
Horrigan and others said a May primary will protect the voting rights of military members overseas and in other areas of the country by making it easier for local voting officials to comply with federal law ensuring they get ballots on time.
It will also save money by eliminating unnecessary elections, they said.
"Holding the primary election on the same date as the state primary in May will save Akron an estimated $82,000 every local primary election year on average," Horrigan said.
Moving up the primary date will also increase voter turnout, Horrigan and others said. Officials said turnout is on average 46 percent higher in May primaries than in September.
Sauter said Summit County government, which funds the board of elections, conservatively could save between $100,000 to $400,000 annually by moving to a May primary date.
"It just literally makes sense to have one primary as opposed to two," Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro said.
The communities considering the primary change represent more than 60 percent of the county’s population, Shapiro said.
"The county is supportive of this and we are supportive of any ideas that improve the efficiency and effectiveness for our community, especially as it relates to voter rights," Shapiro said. It also makes sense for local government to look for other old laws on the books to see if they should be changed, she said.
Akron City Council President Margo Sommerville said a May primary will benefit voters and save taxpayer money.
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters said Falls City Council will take up the voting date change at its next regular meeting.
"I’m in full support of this," Walters said. "Our voting rights are sacred and this enhances that."
Tallmadge Mayor David Kline said pushing up the primary date makes sense for his community in part because the city has a sliver in Portage County, which holds its primaries in May. Typically just a handful of people in that part of Tallmadge vote in a primary, he said.
"We have to pay special to get 70 households to get out to vote [in Portage County]," Kline said. "The last primary: Three people, $4,000, just in Tallmadge."
Voters in Stow last fall approved an amendment to the city’s charter which eliminates primary elections for the offices of mayor, finance director, law director and all City Council offices, and "allow all qualified candidates certified by the Board of Elections to appear on the ballot of the regular municipal election," according to the ballot language. The first election to be affected will be in 2019.