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Democrats oppose Senate plan to ensure Biden is on Ohio ballot, while House skips voting on a fix

 President Joe Biden
Manuel Balce Ceneta
/
AP
President Joe Biden speaks at the Volvo Group Powertrain Operations facility in Hagerstown, Md., Friday, Oct. 7, 2022.

There's still no fix to a problem in state law that could keep Democratic President Joe Biden off the Ohio ballot this November. A bill in each chamber of the legislature included a resolution to that issue, but neither of them made it through on Wednesday.

An elections bill from last year that was amended in a House committee Tuesday included with a provision that would ensure Biden is on the ballot this fall. The House didn't take up that bill.

It also didn't vote on a bill that passed the Senate Wednesday that included what Democrats call a “poison pill” - a campaign finance measure that they said would make it harder for citizens and groups to bring ballot issues to voters.

The Biden ballot issue has been discussed since Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose notified Democrats on April 5 that state law requires candidates to be certified ballot 90 days before an election, which would be Aug. 7.

The Democratic National Convention meets 12 days after that deadline. LaRose's letter also told Democrats the legislature needed to make a change or the convention needed to be moved by May 9.

What happened in the Senate

In what may seem to be a contradictory vote, Senate Democrats opposed the bill to change the deadline to put Biden on the ballot.

Supermajority Republicans in the Senate approved House Bill 114, which started out as a Democrat-backed bill to allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay for child care. The ballot deadline change was added, along with a proposal to ban foreign contributions to ballot issue campaigns.

Republicans have raised concerns about money from a Swiss billionaire in last year's two statewide ballot issues, an August one to require 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments and a November one to guarantee abortion and reproductive rights. The August issue backed by Republicans failed; the one the GOP opposed in November passed.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said the bill had to include more than just a fix to put Biden on the ballot "because Republicans in both the House and the Senate aren't going to vote for a stand-alone Biden bill. There's not enough support for it." But Huffman has said he's confident Biden will be on the ballot.

Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said all seven Senate Democrats voted against the bill because Republicans added in language she said would make it more difficult for citizen groups to raise funds for ballot initiatives.

“I think it's a 'sore loser bill' because they lost a couple of times at the ballot this past year," Antonio said. "It was, frankly, a dirty trick. And we didn't take the bait."

Antonio said the ban on foreign nationals' contributions to ballot issue campaigns is unenforceable, and that the law already bans those contributions to candidates.

The House adjourned without voting on a bill

The House didn't vote on the Senate's changes to HB 114. Speaker Jason Stephens (R- Kitts Hill) adjourned over objections from members yelling “114” in the chamber.

"We didn’t have a consensus over how to get that done between the House and the Senate and all parties involved,” Stephens said, adding that several members weren't present for a vote.

The House did informally pass Senate Bill 92, the dormant elections bill from last year with the ballot deadline extension attached. That's a procedural move that allows the bill to brought up for a full vote in the future.

The House is not set to meet again until May 22. A ballot deadline fix would need to pass through an emergency clause, with votes from two-thirds of the House and Senate. There’s no indication that there is enough support for that.

“There’s a lot of different options in order to get him on the ballot,” Stephens said. “From a time standpoint, if we can come to an agreement that we can all agree to that we can get an emergency clause on, that’s fine. I mean, it’s a technical issue so it should be able to be done but if we can’t, we can’t.”

House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) didn’t mince words in her disgust for the situation.

"Last week, there was language that Republicans in both chambers agreed to and supported and even had the support of the secretary of state. And we see once again that politicians and the politics and playing games with this piece of legislation ruled the day," Russo said.

"I think we’ve officially sunk lower than Alabama at this point,” Russo added, noting that Republican-run state with a similar ballot deadline problem has approved legislation to fix it.

Russo said Biden will be on the ballot in November one way or another. She said there are other options, including the DNC taking action similar to the way it did during the COVID pandemic.

“You know, we did basically a virtual option in 2020. And yeah, those decisions have not been made, but there are options on the table,” Russo said.

DeWine weighs in

Gov. Mike DeWine would have to sign a legislative fix. He was adamant Biden will be on the Ohio ballot one way or another.

"I think everyone knows the president's name is going to be on the ballot. There's just there's zero chance that it's not going to happen, and it would be absurd not to have his name on the ballot," DeWine said. "I think in the long run, the legislature needs to take care of this permanently so we don't have this problem again in another presidential election."

The law creating the 90-day deadline passed in 2010, as a timeline selected to accommodate overseas and military ballots in Ohio's 28-day early voting period. But in 2012 and 2020, both major parties' conventions were after that deadline, forcing the legislature to temporarily change it. This is the first time the convention date for only one party is set for after the deadline.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.