Almost 5,000 fewer Akron voters cast ballots Tuesday compared to the last city primary.

It was the first municipal primary election to be held in May for nearly 70 years.

Last November, 61 percent of voters agreed to ditch the old September primary date, which had been in effect since the city's charter rules for elections were last changed in the early 1950s. Touting the potential to save money and boost turnout, the move to shorten the primary season was backed by leadership on the Akron City Council, Mayor Dan Horrigan and campaign contributors who backed his candidacy four years ago as well as those he endorsed for the council on Tuesday.

With the new primary date, no money was saved this year and turnout is down 32 percent, even after assuming that the typical number of absentee ballots continue to roll in up to 10 days after the election.

The Beacon Journal/Ohio.com crunched the turnout numbers using official results from the last municipal primary in 2015 and unofficial results from 2019. Even if 400 mail-in ballots show up late, which is typical and acceptable if postmarked before the election ends, turnout in Tuesday’s election would still be down by 4,623 votes, according to the paper’s analysis. The 2015 primary, however, was driven by increased interest in an open mayor's race in the aftermath of Don Plusquellic's exit from the post.

The Beacon Journal is projecting that final turnout will be down 7 percent in Wards 7 and 8 (which respectively cover Firestone Park and Northwest Akron), 13 percent in Ward 2 (North Hill and Chapel Hill) and 25 percent or more everywhere else.

Some of the decline makes sense. Ward 9, projected to be down 61 percent, had only incumbent Councilman Mike Freeman to vote for in the Democratic primary Tuesday — whereas Freeman had competition in 2015.

But outside of Kenmore’s Ward 9, turnout is down between 31 percent and 38 percent in Wards 3, 4 and 5, despite little change in competition. The three wards cover the city’s most economically depressed and racially diverse neighborhoods of East Akron, South Akron, Summit Lake, University Park, West Akron and some of Middlebury.

Diversity and cost

Because the county had no issues on the ballot this May, there was no one else for Akron to share the cost of hosting the election.

As a result, the cost of producing and handling ballots in Akron will be billed solely to the city.

The May primary date does give election staff more than enough time to certify the results and get printed, accurate ballots to overseas voters, including military who sometimes got two rounds of ballots in previous general elections because there wasn’t enough time between the old September and normal November elections.

Opponents of holding the primary in May included the Akron NAACP, minority members on the city council, incumbents candidates later snubbed by the Summit County Democratic Party and the Rev. Greg Harrison, who ran against Horrigan. They complained that shortening the primary season would give more power to candidates connected to big donors and possibly hurt diversity on the 13-member elected body.

The new city council convenes in January. Assuming Republicans continue a two-decade losing streak in Akron's general election races for the council, the body of legislators would be as or even more racially diverse with the addition of Shammas Malik in Ward 8. He replaced Marilyn Keith on the ticket while she switched to seeking an at-large seat on a campaign slate alongside Jeff Fusco and Akron School Board member Ginger Baylor.

Fusco easily won his primary race, along with fellow incumbent Linda Omobien, who opposed the primary change. But Baylor edged Keith out of third place by what stands at 45 votes. If that margin between the two aligned candidates does not grow significantly, there will be an automatic recount.

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.