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City Council votes down plan to explain ballot error with a $96k mailer

cincinnati city hall
Becca Costello

A Cincinnati council committee Monday voted down a plan to spend $96,000 to mail postcards to all city voters explaining a ballot error. The committee then approved the same amount of money for pedestrian safety projects — an ordinance only proposed as a reaction to the defeated proposal.

Council Member Betsy Sundermann requested the funds for a mailing about Issue 3, which is intended to lower council salaries, among other measures.

"This error changes the entire meaning of Issue 3," Sundermann said. "How is that not enough to justify clarifying this to the voters?"

Deputy City Solicitor Emily Smart Woerner says ballots will include one wrong word in the summary for Issue 3: "median family income" instead of "median household income."

The one-word difference could confuse voters into thinking it would keep council salaries the same, since "family" and "household" have different definitions according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Smart Woerner says even if voters understand the difference, it won't affect the legal outcome if Issue 3 passes.

"We cannot change the petitioners' language; we can't do it intentionally, and we can't do it accidentally," she said. "So that is the language that would go into the charter."

Council Member Wendell Young says he's in favor of using free options to inform voters of the mistake.

"And let's keep in mind, this has gotten a lot of publicity," Young said. "So people who care, I think, already know what's occurred."

The Budget and Finance Committee voted down the proposal 6-1, with Sundermann alone in supporting it.

The city has to notify voters of all proposed charter amendments at least 15 days before Election Day. State law allows for two options for the notification: a mailer or publication in the local newspaper. The city has opted for the newspaper notification, through the Cincinnati Enquirer, for all recent elections.

Early voting starts Tuesday ahead of the Nov. 2 Election Day.

The money would have come from the city's reserve for weather-related events, which has "several million dollars," according to the city budget director.

Council Member Greg Landsman says his plan to use the same funding source to allocate about $96,000 to pedestrian safety is a direct reaction to Sundermann's postcard proposal.

"If we are going to spend money today I'd rather have us spend money helping people, keeping children safe," Landsman said.

The committee passed the ordinance unanimously. It will be up for a full council vote at the regularly meeting Wednesday.