Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ohio House Democrats Threaten March to May Presidential Primary Move

...or do they?

Various news outlets in Ohio are reporting a rift between state House Democrats and Republicans over the proposed redraw of the congressional districts in the Buckeye state. As ammunition in this fight, House Democrats are backing out of a deal on proposed legislation to move the Ohio presidential primary from March to May; a process that has become embroiled in controversy.

Initially part of a broader election law alteration, the presidential primary move has gotten caught up in a petition drive to put the entirety of the changes to the new law on the November 2012 ballot. Should the aforementioned petition effort meet the signature requirements by September 29, however, the changes in the law would not take effect pending the vote on the resulting ballot measure. In response, House and Senate leaders have opted to introduce legislation with the sole intent of moving the primary to May. The May date is preferred to the March primary date to ensure that local and state elections officials have the time necessary to adapt to the forthcoming changes to the Ohio state legislative and congressional districts.

Now, however, that seemingly simple legislative maneuver has gotten bogged down, in an ironic twist of fate, in a battle over the transparency behind the proposed newly drawn district lines. Ohio Democratic legislators are crying foul and are threatening to back out of a deal on the legislation to move the presidential primary back.

Let's dig into this a bit more because something about this just doesn't jibe well with FHQ's thinking on this. First of all, Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the Ohio legislature. What does it matter that those majorities don't have Democratic support? The answer lies in a provision that in the bill that allows it to take effect immediately upon being signed. The bill has, in other words, been granted what in Ohio is called emergency status (see Article II of the Ohio Constitution). The catch here is that for any bill to pass with an emergency provision, it requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Republicans have a majority, but not that level of a supermajority to pass this without some Democratic help.

Still, what is the big deal here?

FHQ doesn't necessarily see the effectiveness of the threat. Bill, under the normal protocol in Ohio, take effect 90 days following the governor's signing of the legislation. Assuming the Republicans just go it alone, they could pass the bill through both chambers, send it on to Governor John Kasich (R), and wash their hands of the matter. If that happens by October 1, the bill would take effect on New Year's Eve, 2011.

...well before the May 8 primary.

The hang up is over the question of whether the delay in the law going into effect also affects the funding and training of local elections officials, for example. If elections preparations are not dependent upon something along those lines, the Ohio legislative Democrats might just be bringing a knife to a gun fight. This obviously bears watching because there are some background questions that need to be answered so that the public can have a full understanding of this supposed threat.

Given what we know, though, I don't know that what the Democrats in Ohio have here constitutes a threat.

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