Democrats say they will get around Biden Ohio ballot issue by holding virtual roll call ahead of deadline

Joe Biden
Posted at 1:37 PM, May 28, 2024

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Democratic Party is set to nominate President Joe Biden to be on Ohio's ballot after a month of controversy, their spokesperson said.

"The Biden campaign is going to make an announcement today that they have a path to put Joe Biden on the ballot working through the Democrats and the Democratic National Committee to assure that Joe Biden is on the ballot," Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio said.

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said the party will use a virtual roll call, which would have to take place ahead of its Aug. 19 convention in Chicago and before Ohio's Aug. 7 deadline to certify the ballot. There is a precedent for this. A virtual roll call was held in 2020 because of the pandemic.

"Joe Biden will be on the ballot in Ohio and all 50 states, and Ohio Republicans agree," said Harrison, "but when the time has come for action, they have failed to act every time, so Democrats will land this plane on our own."

This comes as the lawmakers in Ohio entered their first day of a special session called by the governor to fix this problem.

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A recap is at the bottom of the article.

Ohio requires parties to confirm their presidential candidates 90 days before the Nov. election, which would be Aug. 7. But Biden won’t be the official nominee until the Democratic National Convention, which is on Aug. 19.

"While I understand the Democratic National Committee has just today proposed a work-around to help get President Biden on the Ohio ballot, it is prudent legislation be passed to get this done. As I previously said, we do not want to leave something so basic as having the sitting President of the United States on the ballot to others when this can—and should—be done legislatively. It’s the right thing to do," Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement.

Antonio is grateful to the DNC, but is concerned about the second reason why DeWine called special session. The governor asked for the lawmakers to address the issue of foreign money in ballot campaigns — something that the Ohio Elections Commission reports is already illegal. However, there is no enforcement aspect, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said.

Tuesday, the Senate passed H.B. 271 and the House introduced H.B. 2 — each meant to address the donations. For both of these options, Democrats say that the Republicans are just mad that they were outraised on the abortion rights amendment last year. That isn't entirely wrong.

"It's been a problem for a long time; It certainly went into overdrive on ballot issues last year. We mentioned in the 10s of millions of dollars that we're spending," Huffman said. "You can't say on one hand, 'Of course, I don't want foreign money affecting Ohio ballot issues', but 'I don't want to do anything about it right now.'"

Both H.B. 271 and H.B. 2 would ban foreign contributions, but also gives more power to the attorney general's office to investigate alleged foreign contributions — including a possibility to fly internationally to question people, according to the Democrats.

"To be clear what I oppose are components of the bill that have absolutely nothing to do with foreign money but are about giving more power for example to the attorney general to play favorites," House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said.

H.B. 271 would also make it harder for groups to access the statewide ballot. It requires any group rallying for a cause to register as a PAC, meaning filing disclosures with the government and making it more difficult to collect signatures.

Last week, the Ohio House said it didn't like these type of rules.

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"We have language that has input from campaign finance experts and important interested parties to deal with the issue. This is language that squarely and directly bans foreign influence in Ohio’s issue campaigns, while not also inadvertently limiting the rights of citizens to have their voices heard," House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said last week.

During a gaggle with Stephens Tuesday, I asked him if he plans to stick by his statement of not limiting the will of the people, or if he would "compromise" on that.

"I think it's always important that when you're looking at language — and this is why I think it's good to have these hearings, to understand so everybody can get a chance to read a piece of language that can be interpreted one way or the other," Stephens said, not answering the question.

He did say that this was now being evaluated from a legal standpoint — explaining the lawmakers need to figure out how to interpret the bills.

The Senate provision on PACs isn't in the bill — but Stephens seemed to suggest that he isn't ruling it out.

"I think you'll hear from different members all over the political spectrum, how they feel about changing the law for ballot access," Stephens said. "I think there's some who think it's the right thing to do. There's others who think it's not the right thing to do. It's going to be interesting dynamic here in the house this week and we look forward to the discussion and the debate."

Following this comment, and as his team was trying to get him out of the gaggle, I asked him if he thought it was the right thing to do. He did not answer me, so I asked again. He was then able to walk away from press.

Governor DeWine is asking for legislation from the lawmakers on his desk by the end of this week. Although Stephens acknowledged that it is holding up bills because they could limit the voter's voice, Huffman says the lack of movement is related to his relationship with the other party.

"The problem is that we have a House, in my opinion, that has 67 Republicans, that in many ways is controlled by the Democratic Party," Huffman said. "And as I've said, when you have that situation — it's going to be very difficult to get decisions."

The relationship between Stephens and Huffman is contentious at best — as the pair are rivals and do not like each other. This Biden debacle has very clearly exacerbated the GOP infighting. Click here to learn more.

This is the second time that Huffman and his team have publicly called out Stephens for his relationship with Russo regarding the Biden ballot debacle.

"We encourage the Speaker and Minority Leader to allow a vote," Senate GOP spokesperson John Fortney had said in a larger statement about the call of special session.

Fortney seemingly suggests that Russo is preventing Senate bills from hitting the floor — despite Stephens having a supermajority of Republicans. Stephens has been accused of being too close with the Democrats and allowing Russo to make decisions. The speaker has denied this, and so has Russo.

How did we get here?

Here is a timeline.

April 5: LaRose's legal team emailed Statehouse Democratic leadership and Ohio Democratic Party Chairperson Liz Walters that there was "an apparent conflict" between the nominating deadline and the DNC event, according to an email I obtained.

April 6-16: For the following weeks, lawmakers went back and forth on what to do.

April 17: Ultimately, Republicans agreed to actively help the Democrats by making sure Biden was on the ballot.

May 7: A House committee passed their bipartisan ballot fix proposal out of committee.

They completely stripped and amended Senate Bill 92 making it a clean bill. It changed the nomination deadline to 74 days, which is Aug. 23. This would likely be a permanent fix. It also allowed for less formal declarations of candidate nomination.

The main reason why lawmakers often choose to amend bills at the last minute is due to timing. By revising an already passed piece of legislation, one that typically is ready to be passed by the second chamber, the lawmakers fast-track the process of getting it to the governor.

"It enables the notification to be a lot more flexible, whether it's email or whatever," Stephens said about his bill. "This gives the flexibility."

This doesn't just help the Democrats, Stephens added.

"Just four years ago, we had this issue," the speaker said. "The party in power in the White House usually goes last for the convention, so hopefully this will take care of that issue."

Russo, who has a good relationship with Stephens, was pleased.

"I think everyone agreed this is good for democracy," Russo said. "We want people to have full access to the ballot, and that's good for both parties."

May 8: The Senate passed H.B. 114 out of the chamber. It changed the nominating deadline from Aug. 7 to Aug. 23 — but only for 2024, so it wasn't a permanent fix.

The lawmakers also added in S.B. 215, a campaign finance bill. In early March, Republican senators passed legislation meant to stop foreign donations to state and local ballot-issue campaigns. This could be by directly donating from outside the country or by donating to an entity, like a political action committee (PAC).

"Most Ohioans would agree that we shouldn't have foreign dollars affecting our ballot initiatives," Huffman said. "Foreign money needs to be out of these statewide elections."

This addition was unacceptable to the Democrats, Antonio said.

"The language that has been embedded into 114 is yet another attempt to try to silence the voters of Ohio when they disagree with the supermajority of Republicans and go on their own to put together a ballot initiative," Antonio said.

It has provisions that could make it harder for grassroots movements to get on the ballot — even with U.S. dollars.

Biden ballot debacle continues in Ohio Statehouse as deadline passes

RELATED: Biden ballot debacle continues in Ohio Statehouse as deadline passes

It would require all groups rallying for a cause that is receiving donations and spending money to register as a PAC. This means that groups would have to file disclosures with the government, and it could make it more difficult to collect signatures to get a proposal on a township ballot.

The bill also prohibits a lawful permanent U.S. resident, also known as a green card holder, from making contributions or expenditures regarding ballot issues or candidates.

All the Democrats voted no because of S.B. 215. Still, it passed 24-7.

"Republicans in both the House and the Senate aren't going to vote for a standalone Biden bill," Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said, defending why he put the bills all together.

Across the Statehouse, the House "informally passed" its version of the Biden fix, S.B. 92. This means it stays on the calendar but doesn't actually pass and isn't put up for a vote. It can be brought up for a vote at a later date.

The Senate sent over their bill to the House, who ignored it.

"We had those conversations and ended up not doing it today," Stephens said about not concurring.

May 20: House lawmakers introduced H.B. 609. The bill prohibits the committee in charge of a statewide initiative or referendum petition from asking for or knowingly accepting money from a foreign entity or person. It also declares the bill as an emergency.

This bill has bipartisan support, as it doesn't have significant negative impacts on local community members, House Minority Whip Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) said.

May 22: When the Senate saw that the House wasn't taking their bait with H.B. 114, they amended yet another bill to further their elimination of foreign contributions in state ballot campaigns.

H.B. 305, when it comes to campaign finance, does relatively the same as S.B. 215 and H.B. 114.

May 23: DeWine staged a surprise evening press conference, calling for a special session.

"This is an extraordinary situation when we have [a] ridiculous situation that we have not taken action to deal with a problem," DeWine said.

Session will last from Tuesday through the special voting session on Thursday.

Siding with the Senate, the governor urged the House to take up any of their three bills. However, his proclamation did state that legislators can also consider S.B. 92. He did not include H.B. 609, but the document states that lawmakers can review "other similar legislation effectuating this purpose."

We agree with the Governor. It is time to protect Ohio’s elections by outlawing foreign campaign contributions, while at the same time fixing the Democratic Party’s error that kept Joe Biden off the November ballot. We encourage the Speaker and Minority Leader to allow a vote on House Bill 114 which does both.

The House leaders — both Democrats like Isaacsohn and Republicans like Stephens — continue to say that it isn’t the foreign interference ban that they are rejecting; it is the new restrictions to access to the ballot for citizens.

Stephens says he is willing to compromise — by making sure that a bill doesn't "limit the rights of citizens to have their voices heard."

"For weeks, we have been pushing to find a legislative solution to having President Biden on the ballot. Ultimately, the will to do so wasn’t there in the Republican caucus. Everyone agrees that we need to ban foreign political contributions from ballot issue campaigns in Ohio, and we have been driving towards a solution. We have language that has input from campaign finance experts and important interested parties to deal with the issue. This is language that squarely and directly bans foreign influence in Ohio’s issue campaigns, while not also inadvertently limiting the rights of citizens to have their voices heard. We look forward to real solutions that will actually pass both chambers next week and solve problems.”

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.