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Second primary still uncertain

David Skolnick

It came as no surprise that the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the fourth set of state legislative maps; they were almost identical to the third set ruled unconstitutional.

But the state could find itself in a real bind as Secretary of State Frank LaRose — a Republican member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which approve the four sets of maps — says Aug. 2 is the latest the state can hold a primary for state legislative races, and this past Wednesday was basically the deadline to get the maps in place.

Republicans were hoping a three-member federal judicial panel in the Southern District of Ohio, which is handling a case brought by Republican voters to establish legislative maps for this election, would impose maps.

The panel did that in a roundabout way. It ruled Wednesday if the Ohio Redistricting Commission couldn’t get maps approved by the state’s high court by May 28, it would impose the third set of maps deemed unconstitutional by that court.

The federal panel’s majority decision reads: “We are acutely aware of its flaws. Yet with deference to the state in mind, we see it as the best of our bad options.”

It doesn’t give the Republican-controlled commission much incentive to get a new map in place.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the fourth set of maps April 14 and gave the commission until May 6 to draw new ones.

As of Thursday, a week after the decision, the five Republicans on the commission declined requests from the panel’s two Democrats to meet.

Where that leaves a second primary for state legislative and state central committee races is unknown.

Before the federal court decision, LaRose said April 20, two days ago, was the latest day to schedule an Aug. 2 election and any date later is out of the question. His office hadn’t commented as of Thursday afternoon.

The Ohio Supreme Court wrote last week: “The so-called April 20 ‘deadline’ for implementing a General Assembly-district plan appears to be an artificial deadline that is based on a speculative, potential primary election date for state legislative races.”

The decision added it was “unclear” why Aug. 2 is “the last available date for a primary election in Ohio. We note that several states will have primary elections on Aug. 16, 2022, or later.”

LaRose responded Tuesday that “there’s nothing artificial about the timelines,” and it’s state law.

Ohio administers each election on a 90-day calendar with 60 days to prepare for an election and 30 days to conclude it, LaRose wrote in the letter.

Ninety days from the upcoming May 3 primary — which will have voters decide on races except state legislative and state central committee members — is Aug. 2, which is already the date set for a special election. A number of counties will have issues on that Aug. 2 ballot.

LaRose wrote: “So why can’t we have a primary election later than Aug. 2? The simplest answer is that any date beyond that point overlaps the 90-day statutory timeline for the Nov. 8 general election. You can’t begin to prepare the general election ballot when the outcome of the primary election has not yet been certified.”

The state’s elections, LaRose wrote, are “carefully planned and meticulously executed,” and “the court’s majority flagrantly ignores the key requirements of election administration literally spelled out in the very state law they’re sworn to interpret and uphold.”

The Ohio Association of Election Officials also urged an Aug. 2 date for the second primary.

Sherry Poland, the association’s vice president, said: “The federal court or the Legislature must put their foot down.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature could resolve this issue by adjusting the election calendar. But its members have consistently refused to even set a date for the second primary so it won’t get involved unless there is no other option.

Statewide Democrats say that refusal and reliance on the federal court is a deliberate attempt by Republicans to circumvent the Ohio Supreme Court and force an election on unconstitutional maps.

When Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a former secretary of state and speaker of the Ohio House, was in Austintown recently, I asked about this.

He said: “I am the optimist who believes that this can still be worked through. But if the Ohio Supreme Court can’t be satisfied with what is happening, I fully expect the federal court to weigh in and settle it.”

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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