Ohio Secretary of State directs elections boards to prep for May 3 primary despite legislative map remaining in limbo

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks about holding the May 3 primary following the Feb. 23, 2022 meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

Credit: Jim Gaines

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Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks about holding the May 3 primary following the Feb. 23, 2022 meeting of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Montgomery County BOE director said he believes Ohio primary should be delayed.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Saturday directed county boards of elections to start the process of placing General Assembly and state party central committee candidates on the May 3 primary ballot, despite district boundaries coming in late and lacking approval form the Ohio Supreme Court.

LaRose previously said it was “impossible” to hold a May 3 primary with all security and accessibility measures in place that includes district-based races because of delays and uncertainty. LaRose expressed his intent to leave legislative races off the May 3 ballot and leave it up to lawmakers whether to hold a second primary or push back the whole thing. Legislative leaders directed him to hold one May 3 primary after passing new maps.

“Elections officials across Ohio are concerned about the compressed timeline for candidate certification, ballot preparation, and the programming and testing of voting equipment,” LaRose said Saturday. “These are serious concerns, but our directive is clear, and we will work tirelessly with Ohio’s bipartisan election professionals to achieve it, delivering the secure, accessible election Ohioans expect and deserve.”

Senate President Matt Huffman and House Speaker Bob Cupp, both R-Lima, wrote to LaRose on Thursday saying they share some of his concerns but directed him to start preparing for a May 3 primary.

This was the same day the Ohio Redistricting Commission, which Cupp and Huffman sit on as part of the Republican majority, passed a third draft of legislative maps after the first two were struck down by the state Supreme Court as gerrymandered.

LaRose spokesman Rob Nichols said the passage of new maps make it no longer impossible to hold one primary with all races, but it remains difficult.

“It’s going to be immensely challenging but we are going to do what we can to ensure there is a unified primary on May 3,” he said.

LaRose passed along the third maps, which still face challenges in the high court, to local boards of election with directions to prepare for an election using those boundaries. He is also working with state lawmakers to get more funding for county elections boards to help meet these demands. And he provided guidance for candidates filing for U.S. House of Representatives by the March 4 deadline.

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jeff Rezabek agreed it would be best to delay the primary — which for military voters starts March 18.

He said the normal election preparation process includes safeguards, double- and triple-checks to make sure roughly everyone ends up with the right ballot.

“We will have to, instead of doing a triple-check, we will do a double-check,” Rezabek said. “That’s where the potential for error comes in.”

He said his staff now has to reprogram the system for roughly 368,000 voters, with little time and no assurances the districts won’t change again. He worries about his staff getting burned out going into yet another unusual, high-pressure election.

“I know my office as well as the 87 other boards of election will do their darndest to create another miracle like we did in 2020 and we did in 2021, also under extraordinary circumstances,” he said.

LaRose has requested a waiver from the U.S. Department of Defense seeking more time to prepare and deliver ballots to military voters and their families overseas. The law allows them to begin absentee voting March 18.

“As a combat veteran myself, I know what it’s like to cast a ballot from the battlefield, and I’m determined to make sure these delays back home don’t deprive our brave men and women a vote,” LaRose said. “I’m confident the Defense Department will work with us to mitigate these unprecedented circumstances.”

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