November Election Could Prove Easier Passage of Tax Hike

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To prevent further budget cuts, Columbus City Council may ask voters to increase the city’s income tax. There is speculation city officials might go to the ballot in August rather than wait until November. WOSU looks at the pros and cons of a summer election.

Assuming Columbus City Council decides to ask voters for a income tax hike it has two options – put it on the ballot in a special August election or wait until November’s election.

Waiting until November would be the cheapest for the city, since there is already an election scheduled.

An August election would cost the city more. But if voters approve the tax, the city would gain a few extra months of increased tax revenue.

And there’s the politics. Conventional wisdom holds that it’s easier to pass a controversial issue in a special election.

Ohio State University political science professor Herbert Weisberg said November elections have the highest number of candidates and issues and thus the highest turnout. He said August elections tend to have much lower voter turn outs.

Weisberg said because this year follows a presidential election, voter turn out in August likely will be even lower than usual. And he said city officials may hope that increases their chance of getting the issue passed.

“If they can turn out the people who favor it, I’m sure that’s what the city leaders most want. But the question is if they can really motivate the supporters for this type of election,” Weisberg said.

And Weisburg said it all depends on who is motivated to vote. He said sometimes it’s the opposition that will turn out, and he recalled a past election where that happened.

“When they were trying to get the Columbus public to vote for one of the arenas, you know, it failed on the ballot. And part of it is the opponents really mobilized. And if that happened in a low turn out election in August, then the chances of it’s winning would really be slim,” he said.

A comparison of recent school levy ballot issues contradicts the conventional wisdom that August is easier than November to win approval for a tax hike.

In Ohio over the past five years August voters approved levies 27 percent of the time. But passage jumped to 55 percent when the vote came in November. An analysis of Central Ohio levy votes showed similar results – school tax hikes were more likely to pass in November than August.

And there is another political advantage to a summer ballot request: if the income tax is on the August ballot, city council members seeking re-election would not have to ask for votes and higher taxes at the same time.