Democrats plan to nominate Biden virtually to avoid missing Ohio’s ballot deadline

Ohio GOP lawmakers were reluctant to shift the Aug. 7 deadline, which is before the Democratic National Convention.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Democratic National Committee plans to hold a “virtual roll call” to nominate President Joe Biden before the party’s August convention — a tactic meant to spare Biden the increasing danger of being left off Ohio’s general election ballot.

Biden’s campaign and the DNC announced the move Tuesday as the Legislature here opened a special session Republican Gov. Mike DeWine ordered to resolve the issue.

The Democratic convention — where the party traditionally nominates its candidates for president and vice president — is scheduled nearly two weeks after Ohio’s Aug. 7 deadline to certify candidates. GOP state lawmakers, who hold supermajorities in the House and the Senate, have been reluctant to pass a bill to relax the deadline for Biden without a vote on unrelated campaign finance legislation that Democrats have described as a “poison pill.”

Democrats “will land this plane on our own,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement. “Through a virtual roll call, we will ensure that Republicans can’t chip away at our democracy through incompetence or partisan tricks and that Ohioans can exercise their right to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice.”

The DNC’s rules and bylaws committee is expected to vote June 4 on a resolution to allow for the virtual roll call. All DNC members will then vote on the resolution in the following weeks, and, once it is adopted, a virtual nomination process can proceed. Party officials liken the approach to the virtual convention held in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.

“Once again, Republican politicians at the statehouse are playing politics with our democracy by trying to prevent Ohio voters from choosing who they want to be president, but Democrats will not trade Ohioans’ ability to hold their government accountable for presidential ballot access,” Liz Walters, the Ohio Democratic Party chair, said in a statement.

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Nickie Antonio, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, announced the change in strategy at a news conference Tuesday.

“The first thing we’ve done is we have asked the Biden campaign to issue a statement, which they will do today, assuring the people in the state of Ohio that Joe Biden will be on the ballot because they are going to go in an alternative direction to find a solution that does not include the Ohio Legislature,” Antonio said.

The Biden campaign and the DNC had for weeks resisted such a workaround. Ohio’s certification deadlines in the past have come before both parties’ nominating conventions, and in those instances, both parties resolved the issue cleanly and without rancor.

But state Senate President Matt Huffman said this month that many Republican members in safe districts opposed a standalone bill because they worried that their constituents would view it as an undeserved assist to Biden. The state Senate, in a party-line vote, instead advanced a two-pronged bill that would allow Biden on the ballot while also banning foreign money in state ballot initiative campaigns.

The House ignored the bill, leading to the stalemate DeWine tried to break with his call last week for the special session. DeWine, in addition to asking specifically for the Biden ballot fix, asked lawmakers to tackle the foreign money ban, plunging the standoff deeper into partisan politics that have shown no sign of abating.

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Democrats have countered that such a ban is not necessary because of existing federal laws and that other GOP-backed provisions in the measure would limit the power of citizens to petition for legislative initiatives and constitutional amendments at the ballot box. A Democratic-led coalition prevailed last year in codifying abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution. And progressives are eyeing a redistricting reform initiative for the November ballot.

“Listen, the thing they are most afraid of at this point is the citizens, not politicians,” Allison Russo, the state House minority leader, told reporters Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear how plans to nominate Biden virtually would affect the special legislative session, which is scheduled to run through at least Thursday. Some lawmakers would like to see a permanent fix that prevents either party from having to work around nomination deadline jams in the future.

“Well, I really don’t know the answer to that, because I think what I heard was there was going to be a virtual meeting and they were going to say Joe Biden is the candidate,” Huffman told reporters when he was asked about the DNC plans. “And I think if that happens, it certainly changes the issue.”

Huffman acknowledged that lawmakers were unlikely to resolve the issue on their own this week, even after the Senate cleared legislation tackling both items Tuesday. The House has introduced separate proposals, and reconciling the work of both chambers remains tricky.

“I will not put myself in the optimistic category,” Huffman said.

DeWine, while he noted the DNC proposal, issued his own statement asserting that he still expects the special session to produce legislation.

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“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,” he said. “For these reasons, it is important that a bill or multiple bills that accomplish these common-sense measures come to my desk right away this week.”

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