Election officials press for Aug. 2 date for second primary election

COLUMBUS — In response to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling suggesting that Ohio should delay its second primary election to a date later than Aug. 2, the Ohio Association of Election Officials released the following statements.

“Ohio simply must hold its second primary election on Aug. 2 if we are to successfully navigate the rest of 2022. Aug. 2 is the key to both a successful second primary and a successful general election in November,” said OAEO president Brian Sleeth.

“The Ohio Secretary of State succinctly, clearly and factually laid out to the federal district court why Aug. 2 is so important,” added OAEO First Vice-President Sherry Poland. “Ohio has unique and important deadlines that will be negatively impacted if the election date is set any earlier or any later than Aug. 2.”

Ohio has an early voting period of 28 days, a requirement to mail overseas and military ballots 46 days before the election, and complex requirements for testing voting systems and proofing ballots that all would be impacted by any date other than that suggested by the Secretary of State. The year 2022 involves added complexities as boards of elections must incorporate new legislative district boundaries into multiple IT systems, a task that can take up to two weeks in some counties.

“One dissenting justice compared the redistricting process to the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ It is an apt description for election officials who feel like Bill Murray. Indeed, we are trapped in an endless cycle of fits and starts, unable to begin or conclude the important work our voters expect us to complete. The suggestion that a date other than Aug. 2 will work has only served to redouble confusion and consternation, just as we were beginning to see a path out of this mess,” stated Sleeth.

“The federal court or the legislature must put their foot down. We need to move beyond Groundhog Day. We need to draw this primary process to a conclusion on Aug. 2,” concluded Poland.

In addition to serving as President of OAEO, Brian Sleeth is director of the Warren County Board of Elections. In addition to serving as First Vice-President of OAEO, Sherry Poland serves as director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Association of Election Officials is a bipartisan organization representing Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections and their staff members. Its mission is to promote fair, accurate and reliable elections through the education of its members, advocating for sound election policies and communicating accurate information regarding the administration of elections.

Early voting is currently underway for the May 3 Primary Election, which will not include the offices of State Senator, State Representative, and Member of State Central Committee due to ongoing redistricting challenges.

A divided Ohio Supreme Court issued a fourth rebuke of the state’s Republican-controlled redistricting panel on Thursday, April 14, declaring mapmakers’ latest maps for Statehouse districts were yet another partisan gerrymander.

The court set a May 6 deadline for completing the next plan.

In a vote by the same bipartisan 4-3 majority that ruled against the previous three maps, the court ordered the embattled and defiant Ohio Redistricting Commission back to the drawing board. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a moderate Republican, again joined the court’s three Democrats to form the majority, with the other three Republicans dissenting.

The new May 6 deadline falls after a Wednesday deadline set by the U.S. District Court for intervening on legislative maps if differences can’t be ironed out between the court and the commission. It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would impact the federal court’s path forward, since Ohio election officials had testified that April 20 was the drop-dead deadline for beginning preparations of a legislative primary now planned for Aug. 2.

In the April 14 ruling, the court said the commission’s latest plan still violates a 2015 constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by Ohio voters. That amendment said the panel must attempt to avoid partisan favoritism and also must try to proportionally distribute districts to reflect Ohio’s political makeup, which is split at about 54% Republican, 46% Democratic.

Republicans argued that the fourth set of maps — like three earlier versions — met those requirements.

The plan was adopted in a flurry of activity, just hours before the last court-set deadline. The commission’s Republican majority declined to use the work of two independent mapmakers hired during that round to transparently carry out the painstaking process, saying the mapmakers’ couldn’t finish the work in time.

“The independent map drawers’ efforts were apparently little more than a sideshow — yet more fodder in this political sport,” Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote in his concurring opinion.

Justice Sharon Kennedy accused the majority of “yet another wiping-egg-from-its-face moment.”

“Now, after months have passed and thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent, we are right back to where we were on September 21, 2021, (shortly before the first lawsuit was filed) without any end in sight,” Kennedy wrote in her dissent.