“Special” Elections (Part II)

Columbus Issue 1 went down to a ringing defeat yesterday, but the big story in my book remains the turnout, the cost of the special election, and the potential for manipulation.  According to the Columbus Dispatch, 49,009 Columbus residents voted in the election, a pathetic turnout of about 9 percent — which, amazingly, is nevertheless higher than many elected officials, and the Franklin County Board of Elections, expected.

The special election cost about $1 million.  That means we spent about $20 to get each of those 49,009 votes — money that could have gone to other civic improvements.

I thought Issue 1 was a bad idea and voted against it, but I think putting important topics like charter amendments on the ballot in special elections where turnout is forecast to be less than 10 percent of voters is ridiculous.  If an issue is important enough to be put on the ballot, put it on the ballot on the customary voting day, when a reasonable turnout is expected — and we don’t have to incur a special expenditure of  a million dollars of tax revenues to boot.

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“Special” Elections And Manipulation

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.

voting-machine“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.

Against Issue 1

Next week City of Columbus residents will go to the polls to vote on Issue 1.  Unlike other elections that are coming up in the next few months, I’ll go to the polls on Tuesday with anticipation, not trepidation, to vote against a colossally bad idea.

Issue 1 would change the structure of Columbus’ City Council.  Currently, the Council has seven members, all of whom are elected on an at-large basis by the city as a whole.  Issue 1 would create a 13-member Council, 10 of whom would represent designated wards within the city, with the remaining three being at-large members.  As the city grows, the number of wards could increase, and ultimately the Council could include as many as 25 members.

db037dcb22d918789a9be47067b41c61The proponents and opponents of the proposed changes have been debating the merits of Issue 1, and the Columbus Dispatch has come out against the issue.  In a nutshell, supporters of Issue 1 argue that the current council format produces members who aren’t paying attention to the needs of particular neighborhoods, and a ward system — where neighborhoods would be electing a specific member — would inevitably change that.  Opponents focus on the fact that the proposed ward boundaries haven’t been drawn yet, and the Dispatch argues that, while arguments could be made for restructuring the current approach to electing City Council because of concerns about corruption and cronyism, a ward system would balkanize the city.

I’m against Issue 1 for several reasons.  First, I think a ward system is likely to increase corruption, not reduce it.  That’s been the problem in many cities, where developers co-opt ward bosses to support pet projects in their wards in exchange for hefty campaign contributions.  Second, an increase in the size of City Council inevitably would increase administrative costs and add new people to the local government payroll — all to perform the very same function that has been performed capably by a much smaller group.

Finally, I think the existing Council system has worked pretty darned well.  Columbus has grown and prospered, and that’s due in part to the fact that City Council is focused on the city as a whole.  For decades now, Columbus city government has largely operated by consensus and without the fractious discord that has affected other cities.  I’m sure there are some neighborhoods that feel neglected in comparison to others, but the overall progress is undeniable.  Run a Google search on Columbus and you’ll find lots of articles talking about what a great city it has become.  Why change what has worked so well?

Yes on Issue 1

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This year I made more of an effort to be an informed voter and tomorrow I will be voting yes on Issue 1 which proposes $700 million in renewed investment in Ohio’s successful Third Frontier program. This proven program targets emerging technologies which includes clean energy for growth and development.

Already Third Frontier has enabled research and commercialization in fuel cells, photovoltaics, energy efficiency and other forms of clean and advanced energy, helping in the transition from the laboratory to the market place for clean energy applications right here in Ohio.

This article points out “it’s clear that Ohio needs to make the transition from a pure asset and manufacturing economy to a more knowledge and innovation based economy and Third Frontier is one of the primary tools, if not the only primary tool to help the state make this transition.”

Of course, this program is a state run program and as this article mentions the anti-government sentiment might scare some voters away and cause them to vote no, but if the facts are correct and this program has been instrumental in adding new jobs when the state as a whole has been losing jobs during the same period of time, I’m all for it.

Here’s the program’s website www.ohiothirdfrontier.com if you want more information before you vote.