Thousands of Early Voters to Get New Ballots

Ohio Supreme Court forces board to change ballot language for pension amendment

More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system.

It remains unclear whether the early voters, who represent roughly 1.5 percent of registered Cincinnati voters, will have their old votes for or against Issue 4 counted if they fail to send in a new ballot with the new language. The board will decide on that issue after hearing back from state officials and reviewing election law, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Oct. 10 upheld most of the ballot language for Issue 4, including portions that claim the amendment could lead to higher taxes and cut city services. But the court also ordered the Board of Elections to add language describing how much Cincinnati can contribute to retirement accounts under the new system and how the amendment will affect future retirees.

The court’s decision came after the Board of Elections received more than 3,000 ballots from early voters. Those voters will now get new ballots with revised language for Issue 4.

Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the tea party group behind Issue 4, sued the Board of Elections to get the ballot language changed. The organization complained that the ballot language included speculation not included in the actual city charter amendment, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the language to remain.

Krisel says the original ballot language was suggested by the city, approved by the board and signed off by Ohio’s secretary of state.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court asked the board to add new sections, Krisel notes the additions have very little to do with the tax and spending portions that led Cincinnati for Pension Reform to sue in the first place. The court’s ruling instead

took issue

with how the board used its discretion on other issues.

If approved by voters, the charter amendment would move future city employees into individual retirement accounts similar to 401k plans that are common in the private sector. Currently, the city pools pension funds into a public system and manages the investments through an independent board.

City officials and other opponents of Issue 4 argue the amendment could increase costs and cut benefits for city employees. Both the concerns were

acknowledged in a Sept. 27 report

from the conservative Buckeye Institute, even though the think tank actually backs Issue 4.

Supporters of Issue 4 argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability, which reached $862 million in 2013 after the city underfunded the pension system for years and economic downturns shrunk investments financing the system. Moody’s named the liability as one of the reasons it

downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating

.

City officials acknowledge the enormous financial problems posed by the unfunded pension liability, but they say it would be better to make reforms within the system instead of scrapping it altogether.

City Council passed reforms in 2011 that address future costs, and council is expected to take up reforms that address the unfunded liability after the November election, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat.

Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

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