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Why Joe Biden may not take part in the election in Ohio. 2024 presidential election

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  • Ohio law sets an early August deadline for political parties to officially tell the state who their presidential candidates are.
  • But this year, the Democratic National Convention will not meet and nominate Biden until after Ohio's ballot notification deadline.

Thomas Suddes is a former law reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes at Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

The latest example of dysfunction is the dispute in the Ohio General Assembly over whether and how to ensure Democrat Joe Biden gets a spot in Ohio's presidential election this fall.

The problem is essentially technical: Ohio law sets an early August deadline for political parties to officially tell the state who their presidential candidates are.

But this year, the Democratic National Convention will not meet and nominate Biden until after Ohio's ballot notification deadline. The same timing problem occurred in several other presidential election years and at the conventions of both parties, including the Republicans.

And when that happened, the General Assembly, historically controlled by Republicans, dutifully passed temporary measures to extend Ohio's vote notification deadline to get around the timing issue.

What's happening now? Ohio lawmakers fail to pass plan to get Biden elected.

Ohio Republican infighting in the workplace

But this year's effort has stalled because the Legislature's GOP leaders, House Speaker Jason Stephens of Kitts Hill in Lawrence County and Senate President Matt Huffman of Lima, are at loggerheads.

In short: Huffman will be elected to the House in November, and when he gets there in January he wants to replace Stephens as speaker, an idea Stephens doesn't particularly like.

While Stephens' House was preparing a legislative solution to the Biden calendar problem, Huffman's Senate was sending the House a Senate-proposed solution. The problem is that the Senate solution included a separate provision that Democrats oppose — banning foreign campaign donations in Ohio, something already banned in Ohio candidate campaigns.

Fight related to problem 1

Reason: Many Republican lawmakers are upset that Ohio voters sided with Democrats last year on two statewide ballot issues – ensuring abortion rights in Ohio and refusing to make it harder for voters to revise the Constitution Ohio to change.

The natural question is: If Republicans control both the Senate and the House, then what's the problem with changing the Senate?

The answer is that the Democrats rejected the amendment – and Stephens was elected Speaker and thus leads the House of Representatives, only because 32 of the 54 House votes for his election as Speaker were cast by House Democrats, while two-thirds of the House Republicans House of Representatives for suburban Toledo voted Republican Rep. Derek Merrin.

Our view: Biden should be on the ballot. Alabama Gets It – Why Not Ohio Republicans?

That means Stephens must retain the support of Democrats in the House. And Democrats oppose Senate Republicans' push – in the Biden planning fix – that bans foreign campaign donations.

In January, cleveland.com, citing an Associated Press report, reported that a Washington-based dark money firm had received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from a Swiss billionaire. The dark money group, in turn, participated in Ohio's 2023 statewide ballot campaigns to guarantee abortion rights and fend off an attempt by the Republican Party to make it harder for voters to change the Ohio Constitution.

To House Democrats, some kinds of dark money in Ohio politics are clearly OK, while other kinds — such as the millions used in the FirstEnergy/House Bill 6 scandal — are tainted.

That said, the bottom line of the argument between Biden and voting scheduling appears not to be a matter of weighty principles, but essentially a proxy fight over who will be in charge in the General Assembly, particularly in 2025.

Certainly things are not always safe

So what happens when, given such noble stakes, the dispute in Ohio threatens to deny Ohioans who support Joe Biden the vote? (Completely coincidentally, Republicans will re-nominate Donald Trump well before Ohio's ballot certification deadline.)

Democrats are clearly confident that the courts will intervene to ensure that Biden shows up in Ohio's presidential election in November.

Funny thing: Ohio Democrats' confident beliefs on other fronts — say, Democrat Tim Ryan's supposedly sure chance of defeating Cincinnati Republican JD Vance for a Senate seat in 2022 — don't always seem to pan out.

To be fair, it's hard to imagine Ohioans being denied the right to vote for a major presidential candidate for the first time since the state of Ohio was founded in 1803 because of a paperwork problem. But given today's crazy legislative politics in Ohio, perhaps anything is possible.

In the meantime, it would be very nice if the General Assembly would confine its inside baseball banter to the Statehouse locker rooms instead of continuing to make Ohio look like some sort of North American banana republic where the only constant is political unrest.

Thomas Suddes is a former law reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes at Ohio University. tsuddes@gmail.com

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