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The petty political theatrics Ohio Republicans are playing about Biden being on the ballot

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The petty political theatrics Ohio Republicans are playing about Biden being on the ballot

Apr 18, 2024 | 4:30 am ET
By David DeWitt
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The petty political theatrics Ohio Republicans are playing about Biden being on the ballot
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A voter at a ballot maker machine. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines: Will President Joe Biden appear on the Ohio ballot? Biden may miss the Ohio ballot deadline! Biden could be left off the ballot in Ohio!

What’s really going on here? For all the splashy headlines, it’s pretty inane. Basically, Ohio’s election law requires presidential candidates be certified in conventions at least 90 days before the general election and the Democratic National Convention this year is after the deadline.

But Biden will be on the Ohio ballot. Most likely, national Democrats will have to hold a virtual mini-convention earlier than their Chicago convention, and the problem is solved. In 2012 and 2020, Ohio faced this same situation for both parties and lawmakers made temporary extensions to solve deadline problems. In 2024, Ohio Republican politicians are apparently just being as petty as possible.

Conventions used to matter in America. In fact, some of the most fascinating political history of our country can be found in the intrigue surrounding brokered conventions in the 19th Century and first half of the 20th. But the last brokered convention we’ve had was back in 1952. And in those days, conventions were held in June or July.

Since then, conventions have become mostly pro forma affairs: Candidates wrap up their nominations by securing the required number of delegates during the spring primary process. The parties have often pushed their conventions back to August or even September in order to shrink the length of the true general election campaign down to under three months.

As conventions have been pushed back, this has become a problem with Ohio’s 90-day requirement, changed from 75 days in 2010. In 2012, when Mitt Romney and Barack Obama faced this situation, lawmakers passed a temporary deadline change. They did the same thing when it happened again in 2020 for Donald Trump and Joe Biden. They even included that change in the 2019 state budget.

This time around, however, the 2024 Republican National Convention is being held in mid-July, before the deadline, while the 2024 Democratic National Convention is scheduled for the third week in August, after the deadline.

Ohio’s temporary extension did not appear again in 2023, even though the convention dates and location were announced that April. Ohio Democratic lawmakers and their attorneys ought to have been well on their guard and tried to get the extension again during the budget process. The DNC and the Biden campaign should’ve been on top of it from the beginning too. They all dropped the ball.

Our chief elections administrator, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, could never be counted on to give lawmakers a heads-up, as he’s spent most of the last year on the campaign trail turning himself into a Forever Trumper in a failed Republican primary bid for U.S. Senate. His official statewide office to oversee the smooth functioning of Ohio’s elections, meanwhile, was “rocked” by “high turnover and low morale.” So Democrats ought to have been extra attentive themselves.

It wasn’t until April 5, 2024 that LaRose’s office wrote to the Ohio Democratic Party to tell them Biden being officially nominated later in August would violate the state’s Aug. 7 deadline, in which case Biden wouldn’t be able to appear on the Ohio ballot.

They had two options, LaRose’s office said: Either hold the convention earlier, or get the Ohio General Assembly to change the law again.

Now remember, the current Ohio General Assembly is seated in unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts that have given Republicans undue supermajorities in both chambers. As a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, LaRose participated personally in gerrymandering Ohio’s Statehouse.

As such, our state’s legislature is largely captured by extremists intent on abusing their power and misrepresenting Ohioans. So will Ohio Republican lawmakers agree to simply move the deadline again like before? When there’s nothing in it for them except good and normal governance in promotion of free and fair elections? I wouldn’t count on it.

“This is a Democratic problem,” Republican Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman said, predictably. “If they have a proposed solution, I’m all ears.” He knows what the legislative solution is. He voted for the state budget in 2019 that included the solution for 2020. The only question is whether he’d even let it on the floor of his chamber now, much less support it.

In a letter to LaRose’s office, Ohio attorney Don McTigue offered the idea of a provisional certification of Biden’s nomination by national Democrats, but Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost shot down that proposal, saying a provisional certification wouldn’t be enough and that LaRose doesn’t have the power to change the deadline. It’s true that the normal legal avenue here is for Ohio lawmakers to act. But these are not normal times and this is not a normal legislature.

So that means that national Democrats are likely on their own, which is why I figure what they will have to do is hold the mini-convention and get Biden officially certified before the Aug. 7 deadline.

When the Colorado Supreme Court tried to remove Trump from their ballot over Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, many Republicans submitted briefs to the court pointing out the many ways in which Republican states could retaliate.

That’s been a well-known danger among scholars, especially since January 6: individual states can’t be allowed to use the 14th to have a national party’s presidential candidate removed because it would only lead to tit-for-tat games between red and blue states. And that’s what I’ve said repeatedly since the beginning of that Colorado case:

Even though Trump betrayed his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; even though he tried to compel his vice president to overthrow the constitutional order in an unconstitutional ploy to overturn the results of a free and fair election; and even though he set a mob on foot to the U.S. Capitol to disrupt constitutional business, where they put the U.S. chain of succession in grave danger while beating police officers, erecting gallows, and chanting to hang the Vice President of the United States; even though all of that happened, Trump’s eligibility for the ballot under the 14th Amendment can’t be left to the individual states. It has to be left to Congress or the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, in part, when they overruled the Colorado Supreme Court. They said only Congress can enforce it. But Ohio Republican politicians seem keen to play a petty game of tit-for-tat anyway.

You know what’s really wild to me about that though? In the 2020 election, 2.6 million Ohioans voted for Biden. LaRose got 2.4 million votes in 2022. Huffman won his last election with 129,218 votes.

And yet they choose to sit on their hands and performatively talk about 2.6 million voters not getting the opportunity to vote for the sitting president who they voted for in 2020? Write it off as the other party’s problem, without caring at all about the actual human voters?

Taunting 2.6 million Ohio voters doesn’t seem like smart politics to me, but we are living in very weird and dysfunctional times.

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