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Democrats unveil plan to get Biden on Ohio ballot as Republicans battle over special session rules

The Ohio Senate meets in a special legislative session on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The Ohio Senate meets in a special legislative session on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

As state lawmakers meet to discuss changing Ohio's 90-day presidential certification in a special legislative session, the Democratic National Committee said it’ll make a move to ensure President Biden is on the fall ballot no matter what they do this week. This comes as Republicans in the House and Senate battle over how to move forward and pass legislation in the session.

The special session began Tuesday at the order of Gov. Mike DeWine. Last week he asked supermajority Republicans to change the Aug. 7 presidential certification deadline, which is before the party’s convention, and to pass a ban on foreign contributions to ballot issue campaigns. House Republicans proposed two bills Tuesday morning on those subjects, with Democrats objecting. The bills are numbered House Bill 1 and House Bill 2.

Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said these are two separate bills because "there's a lot of Republican members who will not vote for a foreign money bill if there is a Biden fix in that." A first hearing on both was held Tuesday morning, and both bills are likely to be voted out Wednesday with a full House vote planned for Thursday.

Senate Republicans added those two subjects to House Bill 271, a bipartisan bill on numbering ballot issues that had passed the House unanimously in May.

"I think procedurally, we're doing what the constitution, the case law and attorney general opinions say," said Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima).

But veteran Reps. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and Scott Oelslager (R-Canton), who were lawmakers in the last special session in 2004, said in a statement Tuesday evening that the Senate's approach is "constitutionally and procedurally questionable, and it presents undue litigation risk that can be wholly avoided by reaching agreement between the chambers on a correctly numbered bill addressing foreign money in Ohio elections.”

DNC announces plan to ensure Biden is on ballot

But one of those proposals may be moot. Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said Democrats asked the Biden campaign for a plan that guarantees he’ll be on the ballot and does not include the Ohio legislature.

“They will call convention leaders and be able to document enough members to vote Joe Biden, to certify that he will be on the ballot and to be able to present that to our Secretary of State," Antonio said.

DNC chair Jaime Harrison said in a statement: "Through a virtual roll call, we will ensure that Republicans can’t chip away at our democracy through incompetence or partisan tricks and that Ohioans can exercise their right to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice.”

Senate Democrats also proposed two bills before session: a permanent fix to 90-day presidential certification and temporary fix to get Biden on ballot this fall.

Republicans have said it's urgent to pass the foreign money ban because while there is an Ohio Elections Commission opinion that it's already in law, there's no enforcement. But Democrats have opposed it, saying it’s a way to weaken the campaign to enact an amendment to overhaul redistricting likely to be on the ballot this fall.

Session could end with no legislation

Of the 27 special sessions in Ohio since 1935, seven of them have concluded with no legislation approved. There's a possibility no legislation will come out of this special session either.

"We have a proxy war going on between the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House to see who will be the next speaker of the House," Antonio said. "I think the dysfunction of this legislature and this legislative session has a lot to do with the proxy war."

Stephens said there's a possibility nothing will happen, but at least members will be able to share their views on the bills.

"I think there's some who think it's the right thing to do. There's others who think it's not the right thing to do," Stephens said. "So it's going to be a real interesting dynamic here in the House this week.

"What the governor can do under the constitution is call a special session for the General Assembly to address a specific issue," Huffman said. "But he can't make us pass a law."

DeWine praised the Senate's action in a statement, and noted the DNC's virtual roll call plan but said, "we do not want to leave something so basic as having the sitting President of the United States on the ballot to others when this can—and should—be done legislatively. It’s the right thing to do."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.