Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ohio Presidential Primary Date Back Up in the Air

The Ohio presidential primary date is back in limbo after Ohio Democrats won the right last week in the Ohio Supreme Court to place the law establishing new congressional district lines in the Buckeye state on the November 2012 ballot as a voter referendum. This gets tricky, so let's have a look back at the progression of events.
  1. First, recall that Ohio Democrats first balked at the voter ID requirements and reduced early voting in a bill -- then law-- that also included a provision to move the presidential primary from March to May. That provision was something supported by Democrats. 
  2. However, Democrats sought to put the new law before voters in November 2012 in the form of a referendum.
  3. That forced Ohio state legislative Republicans to offer a new bill with the sole intent of shifting the presidential primary from March to May. 
  4. At that same time, the new congressional district boundaries were being considered by the legislature and the new clean presidential primary bill got held hostage in the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats opposed passage and the Republican majorities could not force the bill through because the necessary emergency clause -- one that would have caused the bill to take effect upon signature -- requires a two-thirds vote; something that could not happen without Democratic votes.
  5. Republicans, in the majorities in both state legislative chambers, tabled the presidential primary bill in the Senate and inserted in the redistricting bill a line to keep the presidential primary in March. With the voter ID law that included the primary move to May stuck in in the ballot initiative process, some provision to provide for a primary date for 2012 had to be included in some legislative measure.
  6. Now, with the newly redistricted lines being subjected to the referendum process, the Ohio state legislature is once again faced with having to set a presidential primary date because the effort included in the redistricting bill has gone the referendum route as well. 
Of course, this also means that a new redistricting bill will have to be considered, but let's focus on the presidential primary legislation for the moment. That tabled bill (see #5 above) that proposed only moving the primary date and nothing else is now being reconsidered in the state Senate. The state House already passed the version (HB 318) moving -- or at that time keeping -- the Ohio primary to May, but the state Senate, according to reports in the Toledo Blade and by the AP, is eyeing a move to June as a possibility. That would, if passed and signed into law, give the legislature more time to hash out the particulars of the new congressional district boundaries, but it would also require the House to sign off on the changes to the legislation.

What adds pressure to the legislature in the midst of all of this is that a December 7 filing deadline for the primary is approaching and that date could come and go without the candidates knowing when the primary they were filing for would be held. This is particularly relevant for congressional candidates. They would be filing for a primary of unknown date in congressional districts with undefined lines. In theory, then, the possibility exists for the legislature to create a separate primary: one for the presidential candidates in March and one for the state, local and congressional candidates in May or June. The funding of those two contests would also likely be a topic for discussion in the consideration of any new legislation.

The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee held a third hearing for HB 318 this morning and is scheduled to have a fourth hearing tomorrow -- if necessary -- before a floor vote on the presidential primary move tomorrow. The House is set to quickly consider and pass the Senate bill on Friday.

FHQ may have said this before, but it bears repeating: efforts like those in Missouri and Ohio to attach presidential primary provisions to broader and admittedly more controversial election law overhauls is a recipe for disaster. Both states have had the most dysfunctional processes to shift and schedule the dates of their primaries for 2012. The legislative process sometimes demands a more omnibus approach, but if the primary date is of the utmost importance within a state or state legislature, the lesson seems to be do that in a bill with a singular purpose.

Hat tip to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for the news.

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