Today is August 2. In central Ohio, we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer, when the temperatures hit the 90s, the air is heavy and moist, and walking outside leaves you sodden and sapped of energy. It’s not the time of year you associate with elections. But today we’ve got a “special election,” anyway.
“Special” might not be the right word. In Columbus, we’re being asked to vote on precisely one thing: Issue 1, a proposed amendment to the Columbus city charter that would change the configuration and methods for electing members of Columbus city council. There won’t be any federal or state offices, or down ballot judicial races, or school levies, or anything else on the ballot. It will be the quickest exercise in voting, ever.
I’ll be going to the polls, because I’m against Issue 1 and because I think voting is an important civic duty. Still, I can’t help but wonder why I’m being asked to disrupt my normal schedule and go to my precinct to vote in a special election on a weird date like August 2. There’s nothing about Issue 1 that is an emergency — indeed, the precincts that would be created if Issue 1 were to pass haven’t even been drawn yet — and in just three months we’ll be going to the polls to vote for President. Presidential elections traditionally get the highest turnout; the election today will likely attract only a tiny fraction of the voters who will go to the polls in November. And, according to the Columbus Dispatch, holding a special election to vote on just this one issue will cost the city about $1 million. So why not save the $1 million, add Issue 1 to the November ballot, and have an important initiative voted on by a larger percentage of Columbus voters?
I’m not sure precisely why City Council set this special election and decided to use money from city coffers to pay for it, but whenever “special elections” are held on odd dates I always wonder whether somebody is gaming the system. If you can get your pet issue on the ballot for an election held on an unusual date, when people aren’t expecting to vote and turnout will be ridiculously low, and you’ve got a solid core of people who feel very strongly about the issue and will cast their ballots come hell or high water, you’ve substantially increased your chances of reaching the result you’re hoping for.
So today I’ll go to the polls, sign in, press one button to exercise my franchise, get my “I voted today” sticker, and hit the road. I’ll be glad to cast my vote against Issue 1 — but I can’t help but feel that I’ve been manipulated somehow.