Stow City officials may ask for voter support of a measure that would ensure greater ballot access to Stow residents who are overseas.
City Council gave first reading to an ordinance Dec. 8 that would place an issue on the November 2017 general election ballot that, if approved, would amend the city's charter to move Stow's September primary to the prior May. If voters approve the charter change, it would initially affect the 2019 elections.
Council President Mike Rasor, who introduced the ordinance, said he and Mayor Sara Kline worked on it.
"The administration fully supports this plan." said Kline during Council's Dec. 8 committee-of-the-whole meeting, before the regular meeting.
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.
"The September election does not provide the board of elections with enough time to get out a ballot to overseas voters," said Rasor, also during the Dec. 8 COW meeting.
"What the board often finds is military voters, other people who are overseas, they have the time to submit the first ballot, but they do not end up submitting a second ballot. The primary reason for me, at least, is to give as much ballot access as we can to those people who serve us overseas."
A primary in May would provide plenty of time for the board of elections to deliver ballots to voters who are overseas, even in the event of a recount.
Rasor 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 anyway when the Stow Municipal Court judges or clerk of court is on the ballot.
During the COW meeting, Councilor John Pribonic said he also supports the legislation.
"I think it's an excellent idea," he said. "It's been long forthcoming."
Rasor said it is his intention for the ordinance to at least go through the full three readings. This means that with no more meetings in December, the earliest Council would vote on it is Jan. 26, its second regularly scheduled meeting that month.
"I intend on having as much public comment on this as possible. A full three readings is appropriate," he said.
Council is also scheduled to conduct its annual organizational at on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. and its first regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 12 at 7p.m., immediately following committee meetings.
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