Ohio Primary Chaos

The Democrats, with an assist from the Republicans, have made a mess of the Ohio primaries. That’s primaries – plural. In addition to the March 6th primary for the Senate and other state and local races, Ohio will also hold a second primary on June 12th for House races and presidential candidates. Maybe.

This all started in November, 2010, when the GOP swept the Ohio House and Senate and every statewide office. The Democrats, who told us for years that ‘elections have consequences,’ suddenly began to tell us what they really meant by that: ‘elections have consequences when the Democrats are in power.’ As it turns out, when Democrats lose, they have tantrums and storm the Bastille capitol and gin up emotional support for referendums to overturn laws they don’t like.  They managed to overturn SB5, Ohio’s union reform bill, by turning Ohio’s representative government into a direct democracy (allowed by the Ohio Constitution) and getting a majority of Ohio voters (most of whom had never read the law and didn’t know what was in it) to vote it down.

Next up was redistricting. Ohio lost two congressional seats in the most recent census. In a perfectly reasonable move, the Republican legislature re-drew the lines to (effectively) eliminate one Republican and one Democrat district. The Dems howled, even though several of them crossed party lines to approve the new map (and offered no map of their own, although they were appropriated funds to do so).  Being the good Socialists that they are, they thought it only fair that the state’s districts should be drawn to make everything fair. In their minds, that would look like an equal number of Republican and Democratic House members from Ohio, despite the fact that such a map would have no actual connection to demographic reality.

File:Ohio Congressional Proposed.jpg

Immediately after Gov. Kasich signed the new map (H.B. 319) into law on September 26th, the Democrats began their legal challenges in earnest, threatening to repeal it through the referendum process.

Because of the likely challenges and in order to give candidates and boards of election more time to adjust to the changes, the legislature passed Sub. H.B. 318, designating separate primaries in March and June, the later for races affected by the redrawn maps.

The General Assembly tacked on a $2.75 million appropriation to help local Boards of Election with implementation of the new plan. It was also added to try to prevent a referendum, because the Ohio Constitution does not allow a citizen referendum on bills containing current budgetary expenses.

Two days after Kasich signed the bill, a group called Ohioans for Fair Districts filed a suit in the Ohio Supreme Court to affirm their right to challenge the map through the referendum process.  The 6-1 Republican-majority Ohio Supreme Court agreed with them and on October 14th ordered Secretary of State Jon Husted to accept the referendum petition signatures he had rejected two days before. The group now has until the end of December to collect 237,362 signatures in order put their repeal proposal to the voters in March. It’s a tall order for a short, 90-day window, but these same activists (unions, community organizers, #occupiers) have been perfecting this since Kasich became governor. If they are successful, Ohio will be left without a Congressional map six months before the primary.

If this happens, it could fall to the courts to redraw the lines. Another option would be for the General Assembly to pass an emergency bill that would go into effect immediately and would not be subject to referendum. However, the 2/3 majority requirement in each house would likely be an impossible hurdle.

Adding to the confusion, a Batavia, Ohio woman filed a lawsuit in the Clermont County Common Pleas Court saying that the delays have violated her right to a fair election under the Ohio and U.S. Constitutions because come January, Ohio will be without a Congressional map on the books.  She is asking the Clermont County court to step in and draw a new map.  This could have the effect of establishing jurisdiction in the Ohio courts rather than sending the matter to the federal courts if it comes to that.

The most immediate issue is that in some cases, congressional candidates don’t even know in which districts they reside, let alone which districts they might represent.  Sub. H.B. 318 says,

“Because this act will not take effect before the December 7, 2011, candidate filing deadline established in Title XXXV of the Revised Code for the 2012 primary election, it is the intent of the General Assembly to allow any individual filing to be a candidate for nomination for the office of member of the United States House of Representatives to file on or before four p.m. on December 7, 2011, based on the sixteen-district congressional district map enacted.”

The General Assembly also expressed the same “intent” for presidential candidates. A nice sentiment, but if the maps are thrown out in a March referendum, this becomes a moot point – or the subject of some serious legal wrangling.

Oddly enough, the legislature stated that it was their intent that presidential candidates filing before Dec. 7th were filing based upon the new map.  The same bill sets the presidential primary for June and sets the filing date for 90 days prior to the primary election. So why the December 7th “intent” date for presidential candidates?

A call to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office confirmed that they are recommending that presidential candidates file by December 7th just to be safe “because of the potential referendum and court challenges.’

Some of the campaigns (two that I am aware of) didn’t find out about this escalated timeline until last week, which has sent them scrambling to figure out the process for filing and quickly organizing their ground game in a state they’ve barely seen out the window of their campaign jets as they’ve flown over on their way to Iowa. From Cain’s campaign last week:

“Join us from 7-8 pm for a special meet and mingle with Presidential Candidate Herman Cain as he connects with the people of NE Ohio and hears from you. Due to recent election rule changes we have a very limited time to get the necessary signatures for the Senate and Presidential candidates to get on the ballot for 2012. This is a recent and surprising outcome from the challenges to the Congressional map. It is urgent that you take the time to help get this done.”

If they’re hoping to find some help with the requirements on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website…uh…good luck with that. The Presidential Guide is coming soon.  I did track down the 2008 Guide, but there have been many changes to Ohio’s election laws since then, so much of the info is outdated.

I’ve been asking around about the Dec. 7th date and nobody I’ve talked to knows the reason for it. Even seasoned political insiders I contacted seem baffled by it.

[Updated 11/29 2:00 PM EST]

I received a copy of an advisory issued on Nov. 10th by SOS Jon Husted regarding the filing dates. He notes that since Sub. H.B. 318 does not take effect until 1/20/2012, candidates must file based upon current law and the premise of a single primary in March and abide by the 12/7/2011 filing deadline. Husted then explains that the law could be subject to repeal by referendum and recommends the earlier filing date (that he just said  is required by law):

“As with any law enacted by the General Assembly, Sub.H.B. 318 could be repealed or subject to a stay as a result of a referendum petition. Accordingly, this office recommends that all candidates, regardless of  whether they will run in the March 6 or June 12 primary election, file on or before the December 7, 2011 filing deadline.”

And then it gets really weird:

“For those offices that ultimately appear on the June 12,2012 ballot, Sub.H.B. 318 renders
the December filings null and void on the effective date of Sub.H.B. 318. Those
candidates will have to file new declarations of candidacy for partisan candidates by 4:00
p.m. on March 14, 2012.”

So if Ohio does end up with a June primary for House and presidential candidates, those candidates will have to file twice – once in December and again in March. The good news is the state will refund the December filing fees if their applications are declared null and void and they are required to file new declarations of candidacy.

This is a very strange turn of events. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office has done a rather poor job of making this information clear and transparent. The SOS website is in the process of being redesigned and information is difficult to locate and in some cases, missing or not up-to-date. Though much of this information is considered a moving target, Husted could help to clear the confusion by providing regular updates and explaining the process.

Also at fault are Ohio Republicans, who are licking their wounds from their SB5/Issue 2 loss instead of making the case to the public for maintaining the new district maps they’ve enacted. The last comment I could find from GOP party chairman Kevin DeWine was a month ago. Why isn’t he on the news every day explaining the importance of not dragging this out and leaving the state in limbo? The ORP Facebook page is extremely busy patting John Boehner and Rob Portman on the back and giving them “tremendous credit” for their work on jobs, despite the failure of the Supercommittee, but they’re not talking about this extremely critical issue.

One way or another, we will have primary elections in Ohio next year. When they will be held and where the district lines will land is a question nobody can answer at this point.