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Ohio lawmakers are making mistakes in an attempt to solve Biden’s voting problem

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers have banded together to fix the obscure state law that would have prevented President Joe Biden from voting in November — but there’s one problem. Apparently unbeknownst to lawmakers, they only gave themselves until Thursday to get this into law.

Ohio requires parties to confirm their presidential candidates 90 days before the November election, which was scheduled to take place on August 7. But Biden won’t be the official nominee until the Democratic National Convention, which takes place on August 19.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Democrats were unaware of this, and many other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle weren’t aware either. Sec. of State Frank LaRose only reminded Democrats in April.

Democrats have depended on Republicans to help them.

To achieve this, the Republican supermajority, already divided and experiencing significant infighting that has led to the fewest bills in a General Assembly in decades, would need to pass a relief bill in the coming months — all to help Democrats.

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Ohio Democrats have received support from Republicans in the House of Representatives to get the president on the ballot.

The House of Representatives completely gutted Senate Bill 92, the legislation that would allow special elections in August — repealing the 2022 law that vastly banned special elections. Despite legal experts saying it was likely illegal to hold last August’s elections because state law prohibited them. However, Ohio still ended up with a special election as the Republican Party tried to restrict the proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Their attempt to stop it failed.

The nomination deadline was set in SB 92. Instead of a 90-day requirement, it would now be 74 days.

“I think everyone agrees this is good for democracy,” Russo said. “We want people to have full access to the ballot, and that’s good for both parties.”

SB 92 goes to the House on Wednesday after leaving committee on Tuesday. After it is likely passed by the House of Representatives, that means all it would need to be sent to Governor Mike DeWine is a concurrence vote from the Senate.

“We’ll see what happens on the floor tomorrow and then also with the Senate,” Russo said. “But the conversations have been good so far.”

It is unclear how involved Senate Republicans have been in this process. I reached out to the sponsor of the original SB 92, Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon), but did not hear back. The Senate GOP spokesman was off Tuesday.

However, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) agreed in April that his caucus will “certainly try” to get it resolved.

That’s why the House of Representatives—which is at war with the Senate for unrelated reasons—amended their bill.

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“It makes reporting much more flexible, whether it’s email or whatever,” said House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). “This gives the flexibility.”

This doesn’t just help Democrats, Stephens added.

“Just four years ago we had this problem,” the speaker said. “The party in power in the White House usually comes last to the convention, so hopefully this will resolve this issue.”

The little-known law was passed in a major omnibus bill in 2010. In 2012 and 2020, exemptions were passed for those years, with consequences for both parties. In 2016, both the DNC and RNC held their conventions before the deadline.

“I think mandating this day could put us in a position in the future where we have to come back and fix this, but it certainly makes it less likely that we would have to do that,” Russo said.

House leaders are hopeful that DeWine will sign the bill on Friday, May 10, but assure they have two weeks after that to meet their deadline.

“Look, President Biden will be on the ballot,” DeWine told me last week. “This is a flaw in Ohio law that needs to be fixed — and it will be fixed one way or another. I don’t think anyone should be concerned about this.”

But there is a problem.

The problem

This can be a little confusing, so here’s a full overview.

The deadline to tell Ohio a party’s presidential nominee is August 7.

After being signed by the governor and presented to the Secretary of State, it takes 90 days for bills to come into effect. Ninety days after May 10th it is August 8th.

August 8th is the day after the nomination deadline.

After back-and-forth with the administration of each House caucus and checking with two additional legal experts, I have concluded that the lawmakers’ math was flawed.

“The only problem you’ve run into, and you were right, is when you start counting,” said Jonathan Entin, a constitutional law professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Democrats acknowledged the mistake and said they were investigating it. Republicans had discussed it with their legal team but said it still does not violate state law. They added that they had been working on it with the Secretary of State’s team. I contacted LaRose’s office but didn’t hear back.

The GOP also argued that once the law is in effect, “any prior failure to meet the deadline will be immediately remedied.” I submitted that the deadline for the nomination is before the law comes into force, and that this would not affect the deadline that has already passed.

Democrats recognized that it is indeed possible that we could break the law for a day or more. However, both she and Republicans said this would not be a problem.

Solutions

I found two solutions for it.

  1. Pass the bill with an emergency clause so that it comes into effect immediately
  2. Have DeWine sign it by Thursday

I asked DeWine’s team if they were ready to sign the bill by the end of this week, and they joked that they were going to check their “ink supply.”
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