Elections board director: Amherst primary waste is case for state reform

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

The waste of close to $12,000 in taxpayer cash this past spring in Amherst is being held up as an example that could spur statewide election reform.

The city paid for a costly Democratic primary election even though there were no contended races — a scenario that Lorain County Board of Elections director Paul Adams wants to prevent in years to come.

Adams serves on the Ohio Association of Election Officials legislative committee. He is working to convince Columbus lawmakers to allow primaries to be cancelled when one candidate withdraws and leaves the other a shoo-in.

That’s what happened this past February when Justin Stevens filed to challenge the Amherst city council president seat long held by fellow Democrat John Dietrich.

Stevens withdrew March 3 but under state law the primary was required to go on, not just for that one race but all with unopposed Amherst Democrats.

Since there were no Republican races with opposition, most Amherst precincts could have otherwise been closed May 5. One would have only been needed on the south side of the city where residents live in the Firelands school system and had the chance to vote on a renewal levy.

A similar situation unfolded this year in Sharonville in Hamilton County, Adams said. That empty hat primary cost taxpayers in the neighborhood of $10,000 he estimated.

The bipartisan OAEO legislative committee agrees unneeded primaries should be stopped, according to Adams. “I think it’s something that could be solved with a common sense solution,” he told the News-Times.

Some counties are not affected by the law’s weak point. For example, every government entity in Lake County is non-partisan by charter, which means there are never primaries.

But here in Lorain County, Amherst and Lorain are both statutory cities where primaries are required by state law. North Ridgeville and Elyria each have charters that require primaries.

Adams said the officials’ association has had great success in lobbying for changes to election law in the past.

Already, Ohio Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) has expressed interest in helping to reform the primary law, he said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk