Former House Speaker John Boehner’s early congressional exit could end up costing taxpayers nearly $1 million, and that has a state lawmaker pushing for changes in special elections.
The West Chester Twp. Republican resigned with more than a year left on his term, leaving his speakership and 25-year congressional career in October 2015. Now with the withdrawal of the Democrat who was set in November to again face Boehner's congressional replacement, U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, a third special election is needed.
State law mandates a special election is needed to replace a congressional candidate — even if just one person is seeking the party's re-nomination. And that costs money.
The final cost for the June 7 special election, which saw less than 6 percent voters turnout, exceeded $506,000. The Sept. 13 special election could cost nearly $500,000 because there will need to be the same number of polling locations and poll workers in the Democrat-only election.
If Democrat Corey Foister, 26, of Fairfield, would have resigned just 18 days later, however, a candidate appointment could have been made as opposed to the need for the Sept. 13 special election that features just one candidate to replace Foister as his party’s nominee in November.
That timeframe is why some officials are calling the special election a waste of time and money.
“It is a waste of money because it’s not actually an election,” said Secretary of State Jon Husted. “There’s only one person on the ballot that can win and that’s the candidate that filed. There are no other ways for someone to defeat that candidate so it’s a waste of time and money to have the election.”
Husted said he hopes the General Assembly will change the law to avoid this issue in the future.
And that could happen, according to Ohio Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp. He’s set to introduce a bill during the lame duck session.
“It’s just an unfortunate waste of resources,” said Coley. “We just didn’t see it as a possibility, and we just want to do a better job next time protecting our resources.”
The bill would say, in effect, if a special election is called and only one candidate has filed, then after the write-in candidate deadline the Ohio Secretary of State can declare that person the winner without the need for an election.
According to state law, a special election is required to be held if a congressional candidate withdraws from the race more than 90 days before the General Election. Foister withdrew 107 days before the Nov. 8 election. If he would have resigned within 90 days before the November election, Husted said there is "a short window of time" where the Democrats could have appointed a candidate.
Only one vote is needed to declare Toledo Democrat Steve Fought the winner in this special election as he was only one to have his petitions certified, and no write-in candidate filed for the Sept. 13 special election.
Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro, who called this election “a colossal” waste of tax dollars, said the timing could not be worse heading into what could be a historic presidential election year.
“Having to put on an election this close to any general election would be complex and difficult, but making it so close to a presidential election just amplifies the stress and frustration,” she said.
It can also add to voter confusion when people see “vote here” signs, Bucaro said. And if an uninformed voter sees that sign and decides to vote, any non-Democrat would be changing their party affiliation since this is a primary.
This news outlet was the first to report that Foister filed paperwork to withdraw from the November contest against Davidson in what would have been a rematch of the June 7 special election. Davidson easily won that contest with 76.8 percent of the vote.
Husted said he had his legal team search for a way to avoid having an election.
“When I first heard about it I thought to myself, ‘There’s no reason to have an election. There has to be something in the law to allow us to waive this since there’s only one candidate,’” Husted said. “But the legal team looked at it up and down, backwards and forwards. There’s no way around it. The law says there must be a special election so we have to do it.”