Legislators get to work figuring out how Ohio’s primary election will proceed 

By: - March 25, 2020 12:50 am
A voting location

File photo of a voting location from Wikimedia Commons by Tom Arthur.

The Republican answer to Ohio’s primary election confusion lays the foot down from the opening sentence. 

“Secretary of State Directive 2020-06, issued on March 16, 2020, is void.”

The election was postponed due to COVID-19, and the power to set voting dates rests with the Ohio General Assembly. In the absence of any initial legislative action, Secretary of State Frank LaRose took it upon himself to issue a directive to county boards of elections and pronounce a new voting date on his government website.

He called for absentee voting by mail for the next few months and an in-person voting date for June 2. His office defended the move as being an extension of the March 17 election, not a rescheduling, thus giving him the proper authority. 

LaRose appeared to back down over the past weekend, lending his support to a suggested bill (the “Ohio Voters First Act”) that would give legislative approval to his plan. 

With the power now out of LaRose’s hands, the results might be also. Senate Bill 294 was introduced on Tuesday by Republican Matt Huffman of Lima and is co-sponsored by more than a dozen other Republicans. It tosses out LaRose’s directive, though some of its components are carried over. 

Here are the highlights of SB 294:

  • Absentee balloting would continue through Tuesday, April 28; 
  • LaRose would send a postcard to all registered voters notifying them of how they can obtain an absentee voting application and how to go through the voting process;
  • Voters must have been eligible for the March 17 primary; no new registrations allowed for this election (LaRose had proposed the same).

This plan is relatively similar to the one proposed by the Ohio Democratic Party, which filed legal action shortly after the election was postponed last week. The Democrats similarly called for absentee balloting through April 28. 

It is unclear if the proposed rule of barring new voter registrants for the primary election is allowed by law. Daniel Tokaji, an elections law professor with the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, recently told the Capital Journal he views such a proposal as violating federal law. The National Voter Registration Act sets a registration deadline of 30 days before a federal election.

House Democrats have proposed their own election bill this week, calling for moving Ohio to an all-mail voting system. 

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.