Mahoning Valley Democratic Party lawmakers decried a proposed state law that would set two primary elections next year, saying the proposal is wasteful and frustrating to voters.
The proposal, substitute House Bill 318, passed the Ohio Senate in a 20-10 party line vote Thursday, with Republicans in favor.
It would set a March 6 primary for state and U.S. Senate races, and a June 12 primary for presidential and U.S. House of Representatives contests.
The Ohio House is expected to approve the plan today.
“It’s going to cost $15 million” in state funds to be passed to county boards of elections to have a second primary, said state Sen. Joseph Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, who voted against the bill. “I think it’s a total waste.”
The $15 million could be better spent for job creation, small- business development grants and improving schools, he said. Two primaries will create confusion and frustration among voters, he added.
Republicans are seeking two primaries so they can delay the congressional primary until a redistricting controversy is resolved. If that’s the concern, then one primary should take place in June, Schiavoni said.
The bill is moving fast.
Schiavoni said he was unaware of the bill’s existence until it was introduced at a 9 a.m. Senate committee meeting Thursday.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for Republicans, who claim to be fiscal conservatives, to pass a bill that needlessly spends $15 million of taxpayers’ money,” said State Sen. Capri S. Cafaro, D-32nd, of Hubbard.
Cafaro offered an amendment to create a single primary in June, but Republicans rejected it.
“I am thoroughly disgusted with the duplicity of the Republican Party. What hypocrites, saying they don’t have enough money to send out absentee ballots, and now they’re creating two separate primaries,” said state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th.
An analysis of the bill by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission said it would require the state to reimburse the counties for the cost of the additional primary in June.
The bill doesn’t appropriate a specific dollar amount, but the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office estimates the cost statewide at $15 million.
The bill would prohibit special elections in August 2012, but permit them to be held in conjunction with the June primary.
Mahoning County commissioners said during their Thursday meeting they were concerned about extra costs to the county.
John A. McNally IV, chairman of the commissioners, said he believed the legislative proposal would burden the county because it costs the county about $300,000 to have each election.
“We cannot afford next year to have an election in March for county officials, an election in June for congressional officials and then a full election in November,” McNally said. McNally said there should be just one primary for all, and it should be in May.
“If they’re going to have a reimbursement process, Mahoning County wants its money up front if we’re going to have this bifurcated election schedule,” McNally said.
“It’s huge waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” Dave Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman, said of the two-primary proposal in substitute House Bill 318.