by J.D. Davidson
Two days after unanimously approving a plan to change the timing of military overseas voting to keep the state’s May 3 primary on track, the Ohio Senate approved a new plan passed by the Ohio House.
The Senate passed, 26-2, amendments late Wednesday to Substitute Senate Bill 11, which designated congenital heart defect awareness month but now also eliminates 16 days of military overseas voting, allows for expedited mailing of military overseas ballots, allows those ballots to be received 20 days after the primary and gives $200,000 to county boards of elections.
“Our brave men and women serving overseas deserve better than to be used as pawns in a political standoff,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose said. “I understand the disagreements over redistricting, but we should have the honor and decency to set those differences aside to give our military voters all the support they need in casting a ballot. Some legislators chose to put politics over patriots today, and they should be ashamed.”
In an hour-long debate, Senate Democrats claimed House Republicans used a loophole and the money to bypass what would have been a “no” vote on an emergency clause in the House.
“This money clearly is not necessary to extend the deadline for the military to vote because we passed the extended deadline two days ago without the appropriation,” Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said.
LaRose presented the military overseas voting plan earlier this week after the U.S. Department of Defense refused to give the state a waiver on the 45-day deadline federal law requires overseas ballots to be sent before an election.
Senate Republicans argued the bill is solely about military voting and supporting the military.
“To me, if we vote ‘no’ on this bill and don’t do this for our military, we are snubbing our nose at the military,” Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, said. “It is not about redistricting. It is about the military.”
Senate Democrats also argued the state already spent $9 million in extra taxpayer funds to keep the primary on May 3 and another $200,000 was added only to bypass the failure of an emergency clause.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to take this tactic because we are essentially breaking the law of the land again,” Sen. Tina Maharath, D-Canal Winchester, said.
Ohio House Republicans used a procedural move and gave the extra $200,000 to county boards of elections late Wednesday night to bypass Democrats, who did not support an emergency clause, to allow the law to immediately take effect.
When it became apparent the House did not have the two-thirds vote to pass the clause, it recessed for several hours before returning later in the evening with a new bill that added the money, allowing a simple majority vote to pass and make the law immediate upon Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature.
“This amendment will significantly cut the amount of time of our military and overseas voters have to receive their ballots and get them back into the mail by election day simply because Republicans have refused to adopt constitutional maps and move the primary,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said. “The obvious and more responsible solution is to delay the primary so that election officials and all voters experience a smooth election and have the ability to make their voices heard.”
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. Davidson is a regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Frank LaRose” by Frank LaRose.