Secretary of State Frank LaRose stated Wednesday in a letter to Senate President Matt Huffman that he didn't see any way that district races could be ready for a May ballot, even if a new redistricting map was approved immediately.
LaRose has certified a ballot for the May 2022 primary, despite the Ohio Redistricting Commission failing to produce district maps the courts deem as fair.
Sample ballots, which have been sent to local board of elections offices, include all electoral races not impacted by districts. LaRose has directed local election officials to begin preparing for the primary.
“We’re moving forward on what we can. We did receive from the Ohio Secretary of State the official form of the ballots and that basically lays out the contests that are to appear on the May 3 ballot,” said Sherry Poland, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. “I will note that that directive did not contain the contest for the Ohio General Assembly, U.S. House of Representatives, or state central committees of the political parties.”
Poland said there are still a lot of unknowns at this point.
“Whether or not we will have districts in time to have those races on the May 3 ballot, it’s looking like we’ve passed that point. When will those elections be held? When will we know the districts so we can place the voters in the proper districts, the candidates in the proper districts?” she said.
Meanwhile, the members of the redistricting commission are facing possible charges of contempt of court after failing to meet various deadlines set by the Ohio Supreme Court to produce fair maps.
LaRose suggested two possible paths forward, both of which would require action by the General Assembly. The first is to push the entire primary election date back until district maps are set. The other option is to hold two separate primaries: one for statewide elections on May and one for district elections at a later date.
“Right now what we have on our hands is a mess. We have candidates that have filed for districts that don’t exist. We have board of elections that need to start preparing for an election where not only can’t they certify the candidates, but they can’t even properly identify what house is in what district,” said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. “We’re bumping up against this basic reality. A board of election can’t just hold an election over night.
Niven said both options proposed by LaRose have consequences.
“It really is kind of a loss for democracy. Candidates don’t know anything, voters don’t know anything, the redistricting commission hasn’t produced the map,” said Niven. “The idea of two primaries, which is just widely expensive and actually depressing to voter turnout because we already get low voter turnout during primaries, now imagine you’re asking folks to turn out twice.”
Poland said the Hamilton County Board of Elections Office has only budgeted for two elections this year, a primary and a general election and that holding two primaries would be costly.