Ohio GOP look to close primaries

Republicans in the General Assembly introduced four separate bills to put an end to open primary elections.

Ohio law currently allows anyone to vote in any partisan primary — Democratic or Republican. The proposals would end that practice and require a voter to declare their party affiliation anywhere from the end of the previous year before the primary to 30 days prior to it.

An Ohio voter isn’t considered a Republican or a Democrat unless he or she votes in a partisan primary.

That has allowed lifelong members of one party to cross over and vote in the other party’s primary.

There is no better example of that than in 2016 when many Democrats in the Mahoning Valley pulled a Republican primary ballot to vote for Donald Trump. Then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich captured the state’s primary, but Trump won big in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

The current law permits people to change party affiliation with each election.

We’ve seen that in the Valley with Democratic voters casting ballots in competitive Republican primaries and vice versa.

If Ohio changes its policy, it wouldn’t be the first state to do it.

There are nine states nationwide with closed primaries.

What the closed primary process does in addition to only permitting affiliated voters to participate after they declare their membership in that party ahead of time, it means that nonaffiliated voters can’t cast ballots in primaries.

Most of those voters are nonaffiliated because they don’t identify as Republicans or Democrats and don’t participate in primaries for that reason.

About 6 million of the state’s nearly 8 million registered voters are independents.

The various bills would require voters to declare party affiliation anywhere from the end of the previous year before the primary to 90 days before the primary — which in presidential election years would be mid-December of the prior year because those are held in mid-March — to 30 days prior.

Some people choose a party affiliation based on the candidates in the primary. Because of filing deadlines, several of the proposals would not permit voters to participate in primaries unless they declare before they know the candidates.

Also, there are parts of the state that have municipal partisan primaries in September so voters would have to declare more than eight months before those elections.

The most recent bill was introduced March 4 by state Reps. Beth Lear, R-Galena, and Brian Lorenz, R-Powell. It requires a voter to declare their political party at least 90 days before a primary and also requires candidates to have voted within the same party they are on the ballot for in at least the last primary.

That last part would have meant that Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene, a longtime Democrat who chose to become a Republican for this election and is running unopposed, would not have been permitted to switch parties.

It also would have kept two candidates in Trumbull County running as Republicans — David DeChristofaro for engineer and Agostino Ragozzino for treasurer — off the ballot. There are certainly those in the Trumbull County Republican Party who wouldn’t have objected to that.

In testimony last week in front of the House Government Oversight Committee, Lear said she and Lorenz “seek to close our primary system to limit the ability of candidates to mislead voters and to limit the ability of partisan voters to manipulate a different party’s primary results.”

She added: “Citizens who wish to run for partisan office can do so when affiliated with any party and they may change their party when they file to run for office. This is disingenuous at best and intended to fool the voters … Being able to change party affiliation shortly before the start of a primary, especially when the candidate has no voting record in said party, is dishonest and ultimately manipulates and misleads voters.”

Lorenz said: “This bill brings transparency and common sense to our primary elections in Ohio.”

Some of the sponsors of the bills are willing to work together to come up with a compromise on the declaration time frame while others are hesitant.

Democrats — and some Republicans — have pushed back on the proposals saying it disenfranchises voters.


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