Ohio Senate Approves Two Primary Elections in 2012

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Supporters of splitting the primaries say it's necessary because of looming uncertainty over new Congressional districts.(Photo: Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee)
Supporters of splitting the primaries say it's necessary because of looming uncertainty over new Congressional districts.(Photo: Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee)

Voters may yet decide whether to keep or toss out Ohio’s new map of Congressional districts – Democrats are still gathering signatures to put the map onto the ballot.

But the deadline to file to run for Congress is less than two months away.

After the Republican-approved map was signed into law last month, Democrats got the go-ahead from the Ohio Supreme Court to gather signatures by December 24. That leaves potential candidates unsure of where the Congressional district lines are, and the filing deadline looms on December 7.

Because an election reform law that would have moved the primary from March to May is on hold, state lawmakers agreed they need to take action to push back the primary.

Republican Sen. Bill Coley of the Cincinnati area defended the Republican-drawn map, saying that most people probably thought the GOP would take away two Democratic seats. But he said that the maps cost each party one seat, are extremely evenly divided, and protect the interest of minority voters.

“But some are not satisfied and they’ve chosen to engage in a process to try to twist our electoral process and benefit their side of the aisle. This has necessitated us being here today,” Coley says.

The bill Coley introduced leaves the state House and Senate district contests in March, along with the primary for US Senate. But it moves the primary for Congressional districts and the presidency to June because presidential delegates are determined by Congressional districts.

Democrats objected, saying a second primary will cost $15 million dollars and could confuse voters. Democrat Nina Turner of Cleveland said the high cost comes because Republicans drew a map that wasn’t fair.

“This map did not pass the first time by bi-partisan participation, it passed by barely bi-partisan participation. And we have to weigh the cost, not only fiscally but the cost to the voters and the cost of the reputation that we have in the state of Ohio,” said Turner.

But Senate president Pro-Tem Keith Faber of Celina said the Congressional primary has to be moved while everyone waits to find out if Democrats have enough signature to block the map – so they only have themselves to blame.

“There is no certainty,” Faber said. “There’s not certainty for the electorate, there’s no certainty for the citizens, and there certainly isn’t certainty for the candidates. That’s why it’s important to at least provide certainty under the things we can provide certainty for. And in this case, the things that we can’t provide certainty for are tied to whether or not some people decide to file signatures to referend a Congressional district on Christmas Eve.”

But even if the House goes along with breaking the primary into two events, Faber says if Democrats get enough signatures to put the current map on the next year’s ballot, lawmakers will have to draw an interim map or come up with another solution – perhaps even Congressional candidates running statewide at-large.

Catherine Turcer of the government watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action was part of a coalition that launched a contest to draw a map without political influence. She says the second primary is needlessly expensive and threatens to seriously confuse voters.

“When they drew the district lines and they passed the district map for Congress, they clearly weren’t thinking about the best interest of voters. And here we have another example of them not thinking of the best interest of voters. Voters need clarity,” said Turcer.

The bill to create the two separate primaries also includes funding to help local election boards. That could shield it from a court challenge – though the money attached to the Congressional map didn’t stop the Ohio Supreme Court from determining that it could be put before voters.