Nonpartisan elections are a good fit for Youngstown

Youngstown voters will have the opportunity to end the political monopoly of the Democratic Party in city elections if a proposed charter amendment makes it to the November general election ballot.

The goal of the measure is to replace the current partisan primary elections with nonpartisan ones. The leading two vote-getters would face off in the general election.

The justification for such a dramatic change can clearly be seen in this year’s citywide election for four top offices: mayor, council president, municipal court judge and clerk of courts.

There isn’t a single Republican running in Youngstown. It is the antithesis of a democracy that strives – not always successfully – for political balance.

To be sure, the predominance of the Democratic Party not only in the city but in Mahoning County has marginalized the Republican Party. However, in an election as crucial as the one this year in Youngstown, residents should have had the chance to hear disparate political views.

In the race for mayor, Democratic nominee Jamael Tito Brown, who defeated the incumbent, John A. McNally, will face three independent candidates in November:

Sean McKinney, the city’s former buildings and grounds commissioner; Cecil Monroe, who has run for city elected office a number of times; and Janet Tarpley, former 6th Ward councilwoman.

No Republican filed to run for the leading government position in Youngstown.

Likewise, in the contests for city council president, municipal court judge and clerk of courts, there only will be Democratic Party nominees and independents on the general election ballot.

It is noteworthy that DeMaine Kitchen, who defeated three contenders in last month’s primary for council president, will not face Republican or independent challengers in November.

Write-in candidates

The deadline for write-in candidates is Aug. 28, but the chances of write-ins’ success at the polls are slim to none.

In the race for municipal court judge, the Democratic nominee, Carla Baldwin, magistrate in the Mahoning County Juvenile Court, will face Democratic politico Mark Hanni, who is running as an independent.

In the clerk of courts race, long-time incumbent Sarah Brown Clark will be challenged by Dario Hunter, a member of the Youngstown Board of Education who is a Democrat but is running as an independent.

It has long been a political truism in Mahoning and Trumbull counties that winning a Democratic primary is tantamount to winning it all. The predominance of Democratic officeholders supports that belief.

That’s why the proposal for nonpartisan elections in Youngstown has piqued our interest and is deserving of serious public consideration.

But there is one aspect of the proposed charter amendment that gives us pause because it could result in a court challenge.

The proposal sets a contribution limit of $100 to a candidate and a campaign for a ballot measure, and specifies that only registered city voters can contribute.

It would ban corporations, labor unions, political action committees, political parties and “all other campaign funding entities” from giving campaign contributions.

Ohio’s elections laws give charter cities, such as Youngstown, the authority to pass laws dealing with campaign contributions.

However, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that defined money in elections as a form of constitutionally protected speech, the Youngstown proposal could prompt a legal challenge.

The Citizens United ruling forbids the Federal Elections Commission from enforcing spending limits on outside groups that purport to be independent of a political campaign, even if the outside groups are directly advocating for or against a particular candidate.

In light of that, we would urge the proponents of nonpartisan elections in Youngstown to solicit legal opinions about the restrictions on campaign contributions and whether they would withstand court challenges.

We would also strongly advise proponents of the charter amendment to drop the provision if there is any uncertainty about its legality. The goal of nonpartisan elections should not be jeopardized.

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