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Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan launches petition to move September primary to May

August 1, 2018

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan launches petition to move September primary to May

AKRON, Ohio - Mayor Dan Horrigan said Tuesday he will resort to a citywide petition in his bid to move Akron’s primary elections from September to May, given that legislation to put the issue on the November ballot has stalled in City Council.

Horrigan said in an interview with cleveland.com he will seek the signatures necessary to place the proposed charter amendment on the November ballot. His decision comes after City Council tabled legislation to place the issue before voters.

“It’s not a radical change of government,” Horrigan said. “We can argue about it, we can say we don’t like it. You can stand up as loud as you want and say I don’t like this. But we have to let the voters decide. I plan on leading on the issue, not following.”

What’s at issue

Local primary elections are held in May unless a city’s charter provides otherwise. Of 88 counties in Ohio, only Summit, Cuyahoga and Lucas have cities with September primaries.

Arguments for moving the primary to May include reducing election costs, increasing voter turnout and bringing the Board of Elections into compliance with state law.

Election costs are divided between participating municipalities, based on number of precincts. In September there are fewer cities to divide the costs among.

The last few May primaries have averaged a turnout that is 46 percentage points higher than turnout in September, the city said.

“One of the biggest things is participation in the political process,” Horrigan said. “Every vote matters. We should be worried about everybody.”

At issue for the elections board is compliance, according to board Chairman Bill Rich. State law mandates the board provide military and overseas voters with ballots 45 days before any election.

The primary and general elections are now 56 days apart. It takes 11 days to certify a race and recounts take longer. That means complete ballots can’t be sent overseas in time to meet the 45-day requirement for the general election. Those voters receive partial ballots until races are certified. Complete ballots are then mailed to them, which often confuses voters, many of whom don’t send complete ballots back, Rich said.

“For me, this is really all about the Board of Election’s ability to comply with 45-day deadline,” Rich said. “Currently we can’t do that, it’s not possible.”

The issue is also before legislators in five other Summit County cities -- Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge, New Franklin, Green, Norton and Barberton. If all the cities pass the measure, all Summit County cities will hold their primaries in May.

Who is opposed to the change?

Five council members oppose the move to May: Bruce Kilby, Ward 2; Russell Neal Jr., Ward 4; Zack Milkovich, Ward 10, Linda Omobien, at-large; and Veronica Sims, at-large.

And those five votes are enough to keep the issue on council’s agenda indefinitely, said city spokeswoman Ellen Lander-Nischt.

Neal and Omobien, who are black, have argued that the move to May puts minority candidates at a disadvantage. With less money to spend on marketing, they rely on campaigning door-to-door and community events in the summer to get their messages out.

But Chief of Staff James Hardy has said research on several Ohio cities shows otherwise.

“The opposite is true,” Hardy said at Monday’s council meeting. “Cities that have May primaries have higher African American voter turnout and more diversity on their councils and more diverse mayors.”

Hardy also pointed out that candidates can begin campaigning at any time before an election. And City Council has the ability to raise campaign contribution limits, beginning with its rules committee.

Neal, Sims and Omobien have argued against letting voters make the call.

“The typical voter, as well intended as they are, and I have no problem saying this, they will tell you they look to us to give them information about how to vote and to understand the issues that are put before them,” Omobien said Monday night. ” They look to us as those leaders who are more educated about the issues than they are, and many times they ask me questions to help them understand issues.”

Kilby said he feels strongly about continuing the tradition of having summer campaigns for primary elections.

“We’re the ones elected to represent the interest of the people, and they can vote us out of office too,” he said.

What’s next?

Horrigan will need to collect valid signatures from 4,213 registered city voters, the equivalent of 10 percent of voters who cast ballots in the last general municipal election.

The city will need to gather many more than the required number, because some signers will not be registered and will be invalidated. The signatures must be validated at least 60 days before the Nov. 6 election, Rich said.

“Leave it up to the voters,” said Donnie Kammer, Ward 7. “That’s why I live in this county. That’s why we live in a great country.”

Hardy voiced the same idea several times.

“In my civics class you protect the constituents by letting their voice be heard one way or another,” he said.

Neal suggested eliminating primary elections and having all elected officials run in the general elections. Hardy told Neal to have the issue put on the ballot for the voters to decide.

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