Ohio House lawmakers want primaries in May regardless of presidential contests
In recent years lawmakers have pushed the primary date earlier during presidential elections in a bid for greater national relevance
A ballot counter machine. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
This past weekend, the Democratic National Committee voted to shake up its presidential primary calendar. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers want to change Ohio’s primary date, too.
Under Rep. Daniel Troy’s, D-Willowick, proposal, Ohio’s primary date would remain fixed at the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May.
“Every fourth year for a while,” Troy explained, “we’ve been scheduling our primary election in mid-March, allegedly for the purposes of Ohio being more of a player in the presidential primary races.”
For 2024, Troy’s measure would set Ohio’s primary for May 7.
The DNC’s reshuffling focuses on the prized early primary slots in February. Party leaders pushed Iowa and New Hampshire later in the calendar, while advancing South Carolina and Nevada. Democrats framed the move as a recognition of their coalition’s growing diversity.
Rep. Troy, framed his idea is a recognition that Ohio is no longer a deciding factor in presidential politics.
“Ohio’s influence on that process, in my opinion, has proven to be dubious at best,” Troy argued. “It’s time to return to a normal and consistent election schedule.”
Troy’s proposal doesn’t have a bill number yet, but he has already collected nine co-sponsors. Most notably, he has the support of majority floor leader, Rep. Bill Seitz, R- Cincinnati. The remaining eight sponsors are fellow Democrats.
Who cares about going first?
Troy contends chasing relevance in the presidential primaries only confuses voters, and by extension, diminishes turnout.
“People know that Christmas is on Dec. 25. People know that the Fourth of July is on the Fourth of July,” he argued. “And they will also know that the primary election every year, whether it’s an odd-numbered year and even-numbered year, presidential or non-presidential, is going to be that first Tuesday after the first Monday in May.”
It’s questionable whether “the first Tuesday after the first Monday” will find itself written on the hearts of Ohioans. But leaders from the Ohio Association of Election Officials on both sides of the aisle argue keeping timing steady will make a difference.
In a press release, OAEO President Sherry Poland said, “For too many years, the presidential primary has been a moving target, creating confusion for voters, poll workers, election officials and candidates alike.”
OAEO Vice President Paul Adams chimed in that “Consistency is a key ingredient for successful elections,” and questioned the wisdom of scheduling an election on St. Patrick’s Day, as Ohio did in 2020. The COVID-19 health emergency wound up scuttling that election.
And Troy said waiting until May isn’t consigning Ohio to irrelevancy. He argued the last time Ohio tipped a presidential primary race it was 1976 and Jimmy Carter got the nod.
“Our primary wasn’t till the first Tuesday in June that year,” he said.
Shorter season and redistricting
Troy added a May primary shortens the election season. Candidates have to file petitions 90 days before a primary to be on the ballot. With a March primary, that means candidates have to turn in their paperwork in December — 11 months prior to the general election in which they’d appear.
“This is a primary election,” Troy said. “Not just for people running for president. This is for people running for the State House, this is for people running for Congress, this is for people running for county commissioner.”
He offered the example of a city commissioner who wins reelection but decides they want to run for a county seat opening up in the next election.
“They have to file petitions before they have taken the oath of office for their next term in the city council,” he explained.
As ever, there’s also a redistricting angle. In a bout of hope springing eternal, Troy suggested delaying the election by a few months would give mapmakers sufficient time to agree on constitutional districts.
Taking on a more realist posture, Troy acknowledged the map’s partisan tilt means primary elections decide many races . Holding that election later in the calendar would cut back on the lame duck tenure of lawmakers who lose their primary bids, but nevertheless have time remaining in their term.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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