Galion special election issues resolved
By Patty Rice Groth
At a special meeting held on Thursday, December 20, members of the Crawford County Board of Elections approved a motion to schedule a special election for the city of Galion on May 7, 2013, as well as a general election in November. The board has faced challenges resolving conflicts between the amendment to the city charter approved in the November 2012 general election. Several issues were identified by county prosecutor-elect Matt Crall who attended the meeting as legal counsel to the elections board.
Crall was asked by the current county prosecutor Stan Flegm to take on the task of advising the elections board in light of the fact that should legal challenges to the board’s actions arise, it would be Crall’s duty to defend them.
After a long discussion between board members and those attending the meeting in support of or opposition to the charter amendment, the question of what form of petition candidates for public offices in the city must file by the deadline was resolved. Galion law director Reece Mills must be asked to develop a statutorily correct petition document to present to the city counsel. Candidates for the various positions in city government must file their petition not later than 4 p.m. on February 6, 2013.
The elections board’s responsibility is to determine whether the petition document complies with state statutes. Attorney Tim O’Leary indicated he will prepare a new form using the language of Form No. 3-O prescribed by the Ohio Secretary of State. Form 3-O is the nominating petition and statement of candidacy for non-partisan offices. Leuthold and members of the elections board indicated they would be willing to make copies of the new form available through its offices in Bucyrus. The form may be available in other locations to be announced.
The charter amendment issue did not specifically ask voters to approve partisan elections for city offices, making the November 2013 election non-partisan; that is, no political party affiliations are needed. Because the most recent election in the city was a non-partisan election, the special and general elections must also be non-partisan. To change city elected offices to a partisan race, a ballot issue must be presented to and approved by Galion voters.
Dates and deadlines for elections in the state of Ohio are established by the state’s Constitution and the Ohio Revised Code as approved by the general assembly of the state.
After his review, Reece would be expected to present the proposed petition form to the current Galion city counsel for approval. Because the city’s charter remains in effect until May 31, 2013, it is the current council’s responsibility to review the document. By reviewing and forwarding the petition form to council, Reece would be performing in his current position of law director by rendering an opinion to coulcil.
It is not necessary for Galion city counsel to approve the new form. Any candidate may prepare a petition form which must conform to law. If the city law director presents a form as being sufficient, candidates are free to use that form. O’Leary indicated he would be using the specific language of Form 3-O to prepare a suitable petition, omitting the references to a “general” election in that form.
Members of the elections board staff are not allowed to indicate to a candidate whether or not a submitted petition form is in compliance with law; that determination must be made by the members of the board. Upon receipt of a candidacy petition document, a staff member will put it in a sealed envelope to be processed by the elections board.
“Sufficiency” is the term used by the elections board describing its responsibility as to the petition form. The elections board is not authorized to create any form; state election forms are issued by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
It is the responsibility of the county board of elections to determine whether the new form complies with the Ohio Constitution and the ORC. That determination would be made when each petition is filed and reviewed by the elections board. Then the office staff will begin verifying the affixed signatures. Candidates for city-wide offices must collect a minimum of 75 valid signatures; candidates for city council ward seats need to collect just 50 signatures.
The board, with support from Crall, determined the terms of offices for candidates in the May special election must be for “unexpired terms” which expire on December 31, 2013. Use of “unexpired term” is somewhat confusing because, in fact, there is no one current serving in the positions outlined in the amendment. However, by setting terms of office to expire December 31, 2013, the city’s election process will come into compliance with the state Constitution and the ORC.
Therefore, persons elected to Galion’s public offices in May will take office on June 1, 2013, and hold that position until December 31, 2013.
Persons elected to Galion’s public offices in the November general election will serve terms which begin on January 1, 2014. The length of such terms will be determined in accordance with law.
Board president Pat Armstrong opened the meeting saying it was the board’s intent to “do this the legal way” while at the same time honoring the intent of the charter amendment approved by voters. Board executive director Ruth Leuthold explained, “There is nothing in the ORC which addresses Galion’s situation.”
Voters should not consider the special election in May as a “primary” election for the November general elections. There is no provision in law governing a statutory government which calls for a primary in a non-partisan election.
Charter amendment supporters stated the language of the amendment should govern the terms of office. However, Crall responded, voters do not have authority to change provisions of the state Constitution and the ORC.
In order to allow candidates sufficient time to collect signatures and submit petitions before the filing deadline, Galion city council may have to schedule a special meeting before the next regular meeting of the council scheduled for Tuesday, January 15.