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Wednesday, October 26,2011

Ohio GOP's double-primary plan is raising cost concerns locally

By David DeWitt

A Republican plan for Ohio to hold two primaries next year has raised some concerns about costs here in Athens County but also confidence that the task can be pulled off if that's the final plan.

The double primary – one for presidential and congressional candidates, and the other for all other candidates – was created by GOP state legislators and signed by Gov. John Kasich Friday night. The impetus for the plan was a ruling by the Republican-controlled Ohio Supreme Court giving Democrats the opportunity to petition for the recently drawn redistricting maps to be put to Ohio voters on next year's November ballot.

Because Democrats want to put this on the ballot, currently there is no map to show the boundaries of the districts as Democrats gather signatures for the petition. The GOP plan is to move the presidential and congressional primaries to June and hold all other primaries, including the state legislative, county offices and U.S. Senate primaries, in March. This would solve the problem of the upcoming December primary filing deadline.

The extra primary is expected to cost Ohio $15 million.

Members of the Athens County Board of Elections had mixed feelings about the proposal, expressing concerns about the additional costs.

Board member Bill Bias called the two-primary plan an outrage.

Bias, who chairs the Athens County Democratic Party, said Tuesday that he's been told an extra primary would cost the county at a minimum $60,000 and possibly considerably more, though there's a possibility that it could be reimbursed.

"I haven't heard if the state will pick up the bill on this," he said. "Usually, when they have what I would call a special election, they pick up the bill on it. And I'm not hearing that they will."

If the state doesn't help pay for the extra election, Bias noted, an election like this would cost the county what it spends to employ one sheriff's deputy in a year.

"None of our budgets have that kind of money any more," he said. "We can't just have an extra thing like this. I think the Republican-controlled Statehouse is absolutely out of control. It reeks of partisanship."

Bias pointed to the irony of the statewide GOP's stated emphasis on cost-savings and cutting government expenditures.

"I would say that it's our job now to pick up the pieces and somehow make it work," he said.

Fellow board member Bill Lavelle, also a Democrat, said Monday that no matter what the state decides, Athens County will be ready.

"We can handle it all right," he said. "It's just another election. Any time some citizens decide to put a levy on (the ballot) for some purpose, sometimes they have to hold a special election. We can handle it."

Lavelle said that the people have a right to an extra election.

Board member Ken Ryan, a Republican, said Tuesday that his understanding is that nobody knows for sure when the primaries will be.

"So much of it is basically out of our control," he said. "We have to follow what they tell us. We're doing everything we can. The one thing that I think everybody on the board and our directors would agree (on) is that we really need to know right away when the primaries will be."

Ryan said that having this information as soon as possible makes a huge difference in scheduling and allocation of resources.

"We're really fortunate to have a very well-organized staff there," he said.

When asked if he would prefer just one primary, Ryan said that he thinks one primary would be economically advantageous.

"I would hate to waste resources on having to have two primaries," he said. "I just would hate to see those resources go down the drain. It takes a lot of time to run a well-organized election, and boy, that would just tie up a ton of time to have to do that."

Board Director Debra Quivey said Monday that she can't say anything is set in stone at this point.

"It can change," she said.

She pointed to a Hannah News article in which Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, hypothesized that there may yet be a way to consolidate the 2012 primaries. He cited the possibility that the matter could head to litigation, though he said he wasn't sure of how it would get to the courts and who exactly would sue whom.


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