Ohio’s election chief and the association representing election officials have backed a proposal to eliminate a statutory requirement for a special election to fill a vacancy in a party’s nomination for U.S. Congress in certain instances.
House Bill 18, introduced by Republican Reps. Dorothy Pelanda and Wes Retherford of Marysville and Hamilton, respectively, would eliminate the requirement in the event only one person or no person has filed a valid declaration of candidacy.
“Ohio’s current special elections laws require that a special election be held in the instance of a congressional candidate withdrawing from a race 90 days prior to a general election,” Pelanda recently told fellow House members seated on the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. “Current law already specifies procedures in which a candidate can be appointed without the holding of a special election.”
Lawmakers only became aware of the issue during the most recent election cycle in light of the retirement of now-former U.S. Rep. and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner of West Chester Township.
“Ohio law provides that the state pay all of the costs associated with conducting such an election and those costs are considerable,” Secretary of State Jon Husted wrote in proponent testimony provided to the committee. “For instance, the cost for the special primary election on Sept. 13, 2016 with one candidate on the ballot in the Eighth Congressional District was more than $340,000.”
Pelanda said the common-sense measure would prevent such costly situations in the future.
“When Speaker Boehner retired and a successor was to be elected …, a special primary election was triggered and each party selected their candidate for the general election,” Ohio Association of Election Officials President Tim Ward recounted in testimony. “The SNAFU occurred when one of these candidates dropped off the ballot and a replacement was needed.
“Only one candidate put their name forward. However, due to the wording of the Ohio Revised Code, a second election was required to be held to nominate that candidate.”
He figured the cost to taxpayers exceeded the $400,000 mark.
“HB 18 fixes this glaring issue by removing the requirement to hold a special congressional primary where only one candidate will appear on the ballot,” Ward said.
The election official suggested House members consider an amendment to HB 18 to address what he characterized as a closely related issue.
“It is not infrequent for only one candidate to file for a primary election,” Ward began. “And the revised code is clear that in these instances, a board of elections can certify a candidate through to the general election without conducting a primary election.
“However, on occasion, multiple candidates file for a primary, but for one reason or another only one candidate is certified to the ballot.”
Boards of elections are required to conduct a primary in such circumstances, despite only a single candidate appears on the ballot, he said.
“The amendment we are requesting would remedy this issue by stating that boards may cancel a primary if only one candidate is certified to the primary ballot as opposed to one candidate filing for the primary election,” Ward said. “The amendment takes into account write-in candidates and would still require a primary if the filing of a write-in candidate triggers a multi-way contest.
“We have prepared language to achieve this change and would be happy to work with members of this committee to see it included in the bill.”
Ohio Legislative Service Commission fiscal analysis of the measure, without the proposed amendment, noted that the costs of special elections vary and are dependent upon factors that include the number of counties involved, the number of precincts required to be open within those counties, the total number of poll workers needed and whether the precincts are in urban or rural areas.
Husted’s office estimated that the per precinct costs for conducting elections can range from $800 to $1,500 per precinct, analysis determined.
Committee members were to have taken up the measure for all testimony in a third hearing by the time of publication.
Nineteen fellow House members have signed on as cosponsors of the measure.