A Statehouse battle may keep Joe Biden off Ohio’s ballot

0
68
  • Ohio law sets an early August deadline for political parties to officially tell the state who their presidential nominees are.
  • But this year, the Democratic National Convention won’t meet and nominate Biden until after Ohio’s ballot-notification deadline.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

In the latest example of dysfunction, the Ohio General Assembly is bickering over whether and how to be sure that Democrat Joe Biden gets a slot on Ohio’s presidential ballot this fall.

The problem is essentially technical: Ohio law sets an early August deadline for political parties to officially tell the state who their presidential nominees are.

But this year, the Democratic National Convention won’t meet and nominate Biden until after Ohio’s ballot-notification deadline. The same timing problem has happened in some other presidential election years, and with the conventions of both parties, i.e., with Republicans, too.

And when that’s happened, the General Assembly, controlled by Republicans since forever, has dutifully passed temporary measures to extend that Ohio ballot notification deadline to elude the timing problem.

Ohio Republican infighting at work

But this year’s effort stalled, because the legislature’s GOP leaders, House Speaker Jason Stephens, of Lawrence County’s Kitts Hill, and Senate President Matt Huffman, of Lima, are at loggerhead.

Briefly stated, Huffman will be elected to the House in November, and when he arrives there in January, he wants to replace Stephens as speaker, an idea Stephens isn’t high on.

As Stephens’s House prepared a legislative fix for the Biden calendar problem, Huffman’s Senate sent the House a Senate-proposed fix. Trouble is, the Senate fix included a separate provision that Democrats oppose – to ban foreign donations to Ohio ballot issue campaigns, something already banned in Ohio candidate campaigns.

Fight linked to Issue 1

Reason: Many Republican legislators are peeved that Ohio voters last year sided with Democrats on two statewide ballot issues – guaranteeing abortion rights in Ohio and refusing to make it harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution.

The natural question is that, if Republicans control both the Senate any House, what’s the problem with the Senate’s amendment?

The answer is that Democrats oppose the amendment – and Stephens was elected speaker, and hence leads the House, only because 32 of the 54 House votes to elect him speaker were cast by the House’s Democrats while two-thirds of House Republicans voted for suburban Toledo Republican Rep. Derek Merrin.

That is, Stephens needs to retain House Democratic backing. And Democrats oppose Senate Republicans’ rider — in the Biden scheduling fix — banning foreign donations to issue campaigns.

In January, citing an Associated Press report, cleveland.com reported that a Washington-based dark money outfit had received several hundred million dollars in donations from a Swiss billionaire. The dark-money group in turn contributed to Ohio’s 2023 statewide ballot issue campaigns to guarantee abortion rights and fight off a GOP bid to make it harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution.https://omny.fm/shows/dispatch-on-demand-audio/playlists/then-what-happened/embed?style=cover

To the legislature’s Democrats, some kinds of dark money are evidently OK in Ohio politics, while other kinds — i.e., the millions deployed in the FirstEnergy/House Bill 6 scandal — are tainted.

 That is, the bottom line in the Biden/ballot scheduling argument doesn’t appear to be a matter of weighty principle but essentially a proxy fight over who will call the General Assembly’s shots, especially in 2025.

Sure things aren’t always sure

Given such noble stakes, so what if Ohio bickering threatens to deny the vote to Ohioans who support Joe Biden? (Complete coincidence, Republicans will renominate Donald Trump well before Ohio’s ballot certification deadline.)

Democrats are evidently confident courts will step in to make sure Biden appears on Ohio’s November presidential ballot.

Funny thing: Ohio Democrats’ confident beliefs on other fronts – say, Democrat Tim Ryan’s supposed sure-thing, slam-dunk chance of defeating Cincinnati Republican J.D. Vance for a Senate seat in 2022 – don’t always seem to pan out.

In fairness, it is hard to imagine that for the first time since statehood in 1803, Ohioans would be denied the right to vote for a major presidential candidate because of what amounts to a paperwork problem. But given today’s zany Ohio legislative politicking, perhaps anything is possible.

Meanwhile, it would be ever so nice if the General Assembly would confine its inside-baseball snit fights to the Statehouse’s locker rooms rather than continue to make Ohio look like some kind of North American banana republic, where the only constant is political turmoil.