Small town problem: Filling vacant public office seats


In-person early voting at the Butler County Board of Elections, 1802 Princeton Road in Hamilton, and Warren County Board of Elections, 502 Justice Drive in Lebanon, began on Oct. 6:

  • Weekday hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Friday, Oct. 23; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 26-30
  • No voting today: There will be no early voting today due to the Columbus Day holiday
  • Weekend days: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1
  • Last early voting day: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2

The village of Jacksonburg exemplifies the cliche of driving through a small town: don’t blink or you miss it.

Jacksonburg, which is the hometown of former Ohio Gov. James M. Cox, is only 0.02 square miles — you can see all four corporation lines from the only intersection at Jacksonburg and Oxford-Middletown roads — with an estimated Census population of 64, which just more than half are registered to vote.

The primary duty of the mayor and village council is to pay the bills — the primary bill is to make sure the village lights are on — said Mayor Michael Sword. Until this year, the other major expense was to pay for garbage collection for the fewer than two dozen homes.

“Back in the day, we had all kinds of money,” said Sword, but then the state slashed the local government funds.

There has not been a candidate’s name on the ballot for mayor, village council or clerk/treasurer since 2005, said Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro said. Voters either saw “write-in” or did not see any name on the ballot. Only certified write-in candidates will have votes counted — no matter how many votes Mickey Mouse gets, they won’t count. And if no one is on the ballot, the current council will fill the vacancy with appointments — often times with those whose terms expired.

Bucaro said not filing to run for an election is “not very democratic,” but she understands there are communities that struggle to find people to appoint to office, much less run for election.

“Sometimes they can’t fill vacancies, and there have been some cases where vacancies haven’t been filled for several years where they just can’t find anyone to serve,” she said.

That is exactly the case for Jacksonburg, said Sword.

But Jacksonburg isn’t the only small town facing this problem, Bucaro said.

“The smaller village is where we see no candidates file, or write-in candidates file, more frequently,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, there isn’t a whole lot of benefit to it unless you have a strong motivation to want to serve your village. They have time-consuming jobs, and I don’t think they get paid very much to do them.”

In the case of Jacksonburg, they don’t get paid at all, said Sword, who’s been mayor since 1980. They haven’t been able to afford to pay the council for several years.

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