Biden’s Ohio ballot problems: What to know

Intraparty divisions within the Ohio legislature are stifling efforts to get President Biden on the November ballot.

Ohio requires parties to certify their presidential nominees 90 days before the election. But the Democratic National Convention, where Democrats will officially nominate the president, is scheduled after that deadline.

In the only state with outstanding issues over certifying Biden’s candidacy, Republican state lawmakers deadlocked on a solution to get the president on the ballot after offering competing proposals, prompting Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to intervene and call for a special session next week.

But Democrats are recoiling over DeWine’s suggested legislative fix, raising questions about whether the party might seek another route to get Biden on the ballot.

Still, both parties and the campaign expressed confidence that Biden would be on the ballot this fall.

“Joe Biden will be on the ballot in all 50 states, and we are assessing next steps accordingly,” Biden campaign spokesman Charles Lutvak said in a statement.

Here’s what to know about Biden’s Ohio ballot problems:

Lawmakers notified of Biden’s ballot issue, offer competing proposals

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) notified Democrats in April that the president risked being left off the ballot, noting the timing of the Democratic National Convention — after the state’s 90-day certification deadline.  The state deadline is Aug. 7, and the convention begins Aug. 19.

Because it takes 90 days for legislation to take effect after it’s signed by the governor, lawmakers had until May 9 — which is 90 days out from Aug. 7 — to pass a legislative solution.

But lawmakers in the state House and state Senate offered competing solutions: The House wanted to pursue a clean bill that would have allowed the state’s certification deadline to be changed permanently from 90 days to 74 days.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans wanted to offer Democrats a one-time fix by changing the certification deadline for the 2024 election, while pairing it with other legislation that seeks to ban foreign nationals from contributing to ballot initiatives — a proposal Democrats rejected.

The Senate passed its version. But the House ultimately never moved forward with that legislation, nor did it pass its own proposal — deadlocking over the matter.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Rob McColley (R) told The Hill he didn’t know why the Senate bill fell apart in the House, saying Republicans had been under the impression it had enough votes to head to the governor’s desk.

“We were told by a number of members of the House of Representatives that House Bill 114, that had both the foreign contributions ban and the Biden ballot fix in it, had enough votes to pass the House of Representatives and it was not even brought up for a message,” explained McColley, who was a sponsor of the ban on contributions.

Timing is not a new problem

Nominating candidates during a convention that falls after a state’s certification is not a new problem.

This cycle, Biden campaign saw similar issues in Washington state and Alabama; Washington allowed Democrats to send the state a provisional ballot to remedy the issue while the state legislature in Alabama to move their state’s certification deadline to 74 days before the election, instead of 82 days.

“Election after election, states across the country have acted in line with the bipartisan consensus and taken the necessary steps to ensure the presidential nominees from both parties will be on the ballot,” Lutvak said. “And this election is no different — Alabama, with full Republican support, and Washington State are already taking action to ensure that voters can exercise their right to vote for the candidate of their choice in November.”

The issue has also come up in Ohio in 2012 and 2020, when the state legislature created fixes both times to make sure the presidential candidates were certified before the election.

Tensions within the state legislature

The state’s two chambers have been at loggerheads, particularly since House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) won the gavel.

Though a majority of House Republicans voted for Rep. Derick Merrin (R) for the leadership role in 2023, Stephens emerged victorious from the speakership race after working out a deal with Democrats.

Tensions among Republicans have spilled into view. The party is already bracing for what will be another contentious race, as term-limited Senate President Matt Huffman (R) runs for state House and is likely to challenge Stephens for the gavel in November.

“…They are playing out a proxy war on every single item in the legislative process this year,”  Senate Minority Leader Nicki Antonio (D) told The Hill, referring to Stephens and Huffman. “And so that’s why we’re at this stalemate. It really doesn’t have anything to do with Democrats and Republicans, it has everything to do with two people wanting to maintain to be the Speaker of the House next year.”

DeWine intervenes, but questions loom

DeWine announced on Thursday that he would calling a special session next week to force lawmakers to address getting Biden on the November ballot, saying in a statement that “failing to do so is unacceptable.”

“The purpose of the session will be for the General Assembly to pass legislation ensuring that both major party presidential candidates will be on the Ohio ballot in November, as well as legislation that would prohibit campaign spending by foreign nationals,” the governor said, proposing a solution akin to what the Senate had already passed.

Senate Republicans backed the governor’s move.

“It is time to protect Ohio’s elections by outlawing foreign campaign contributions, while at the same time fixing the Democratic Party’s error that kept Joe Biden off the November ballot. We encourage the Speaker and Minority Leader to allow a vote on House Bill 114 which does both,” John Fortney, a spokesman for the Ohio Senate Majority caucus, said in a statement.

But the move has raised questions over how Stephens and Democrats will proceed, with both suggesting it wasn’t a fix.

“Everyone agrees that we need to ban foreign political contributions from ballot issue campaigns in Ohio, and we have been driving towards a solution,” Stephens said in a statement. “We have language that has input from campaign finance experts and important interested parties to deal with the issue. This is language that squarely and directly bans foreign influence in Ohio’s issue campaigns, while not also inadvertently limiting the rights of citizens to have their voices heard.”

“We look forward to real solutions that will actually pass both chambers next week and solve problems.”

Democrats also appeared unimpressed with DeWine’s proposal.

“I agree that it’d be great to get Biden on the ballot with a legislative fix, but any newfound sense of urgency from Rs is not really about Biden,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D) in a post on X. “It’s about their intent to undermine ballot initiatives, specifically the one that takes away their supermajority power in November.”

As lawmakers head back to the state Capitol on Tuesday, the governor’s proposal is raising questions around whether both parties will be able to come to a legislative solution over the fix to get Biden on the ballot or if Democrats opt for another solution, such as court action or a workaround with the convention.

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