Few Voters Make Big Decisions in Off-year and Special Elections.

Aug 8, 2013

The results from Tuesday’s special election in Ohio are still unofficial as provisional and absentee ballots continue to be counted, and though it varies from precinct to precinct, and county to county, voter turnout overall was expectedly low.

Voters in 23 Ohio counties decided on 28 issues. 19 of those were school tax levies. But no matter if an issue passed or failed, it was still decided on by a reletively few number of people who had the ability to participate in the decision making process.

Special and off-year elections are generally noted for low voter turnout and big decisions that will affect a large number of people can be made by a relatively small number of voters.  Dr. Tom Lasley with the School of Education and Health Sciences at the University of Dayton explains why that’s a problem.

Lasley says, “With small turnouts you get either people who are strongly opposed and are able to align themselves with others in a way that creates a negative vote, or, I would argue that even when you have positive votes, you don’t have full community support of an initiative.”

Some examples from Tuesday’s election – In Warren County, just over 1100 voters pushed though a tax increase that will affect more than 36,000 residents.  Turnout across the county was less than 11%

In German Township just 241 people, less than 7% of eligible voters, pushed through a .5 mil parks and recreation levy. Butler Township and Clark County saw above average turnout for issues on their ballots in the special election but those outcomes were still made by a minority of eligible voters.

Steve Harsman with the Montgomery County Board of Elections says there’s a reason some ballot issues turn up in special elections and that “a lot of times it’s strategic reasons why jurisdictions put their issue on in that type of election, because of the low voter turnout.”

After getting the issue on the ballot it takes some marketing effort to get the word out and get voters to the polls, but Harsman says there is a cost for jurisdictions using this strategy.

“There’s four set elections per years, as long as they file the paperwork in a timely manner.  It’s important to note that in a special election situation, we do charge back a 100% of those costs to those jurisdictions for conducting that election.”

Those jurisdictions that had issues voted down on Tuesday, will have their next shot at additional funding in November when more levy requests are likely to come to a ballot near you.