Ohio House Dems try to stall a bill changing deadlines for overseas and military primary voters

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Democratic members of the Ohio House voted against the measure, saying the state needs to delay the May 3 primary for all voters with legal challenges to be heard over new Republican-approved district maps.

Lawmakers engaged in a series of passionate floor speeches about the ability for military voters to cast a vote in the primary even while serving overseas.

After hours of negotiations and some parliamentary maneuvering, the changes were approved but not without push back from Democratic representatives.

There are questions about overseas and military ballots as concerns rise about a full primary on May 3 with legal challenges to Republican-approved legislative and congressional district maps.

Current law says those overseas and military voters must have access to a ballot 45 days before the primary. The original amended bill on the House floor would shorten that window to 30 days and extend the return date of those ballots to 20 days after the May 3 primary.

But House Democrats say local boards of elections are under stress to be ready for the May 3 primary, arguing the date should be moved.

“What I’m saying to you is that what we’re doing today is just putting some gloss over a sore that we need to fix,” says Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo).

A collection of lawmakers who served in the military talked about the measure, with Democratic veterans speaking against the plan and Republican veterans pushing for the bill.

“If we are standing here from both sides of the aisles talking about our collective admiration, our collective support for our men and women in uniform, that we would come together and support these amendments and that we can get on to getting this mail out to where it needs to be,” says Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg).

An attempt at passing the changes to overseas and military voting was first attached to a bill as an amendment and required a two-thirds majority vote to attach an emergency clause, so it would take effect immediately. Without any Democratic support, the amendment with an emergency clause did not pass.

After a lengthy recess, the House returned to session Wednesday evening and attached the amendment to a different bill along with $200,000 to pay for expedited delivery of ballots.

The bill was approved by a party-line vote and can go into effect immediately with the addition of that appropriation, bypassing the need for an emergency clause.

The change for overseas voters was seen as needed to address the dilemma caused by the fight over state legislative and congressional district maps, approved by Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled two state legislative map proposals and one congressional map proposal unconstitutional since January. All were drawn and approved by Republicans, and would likely give the GOP significant advantages in the state House and Senate races and with congressional seats.

Because of the pending status of those maps, local boards of elections will not have ballots ready in time to send to overseas voters by the March 18 deadline.

The state asked the federal government to waive the deadlines for overseas ballots, but that request was denied.

Legislative leaders have said they will consider moving the date of the May 3 primary if the court rejects either of the proposed district maps currently facing legal challenges.