Is Ohio Republican primary ballot too confusing?

Posted at 9:49 AM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 09:15:56-05

COLUMBUS – Every Republican primary voter in Ohio will have two opportunities to vote for president, in a ballot twist that only escalates the potential confusion caused by the party’s large and fractious field of candidates.

GOP ballots for the March 15 primary feature two boxes for president: one for designating an at-large presidential delegate and one for designating a district delegate. It’s a carry-over from a time when Ohio’s Republican vote was divided proportionally, rather than in the winner-take-all fashion being used in 2016.

The two boxes raise obvious questions: Do voters get two votes? Can conflicted voters split their vote, or do votes for two candidates cancel each other out? If only one of the two boxes is filled in, does the person’s vote still count?

Ohio never changed a requirement that both boxes be listed, and the secretary of state’s office says both will also tallied. But the Ohio Republican Party says only one will count.

“Because there are two pathways to selecting delegates to represent Ohio at the convention, voters must vote twice — once for the congressional district delegate and once for delegate at-large,” said party spokeswoman Brittany Warner. “The votes that will be counted to determine the results are the delegates at-large.”

The ballot presentation has angered the American Policy Roundtable, a conservative policy group that works in the area of voter outreach and participation.

“Why give people two options for president if one doesn’t count? I don’t get it,” said Rob Walgate, the group’s vice president. “Beyond that, people are already voting in Ohio. When were they planning to tell people? Do the candidates even know about this? There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Further complicating matters, Republican ballots in Ohio still list 11 at-large presidential candidates and up to 10 district-level candidates. Yet only four — billionaire Donald Trump, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and Gov. John Kasich — remain in the race.

By contrast, Democratic primary ballots in Ohio feature just one box, with three candidates.

Josh Eck, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jon Husted, said signs indicating the names of withdrawn candidates are prominently displayed at polling places.

But that attempt at clearing the confusion also has a caveat: Only candidates who withdrew before the state’s Feb. 5 deadline set to accommodate early voting that’s already underway will be posted. So that’s just one guy, Eck said: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Six others appearing in the at-large voting square aren’t viable choices.

Carrie Davis, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters, said having two delegate choices in Ohio primaries isn’t new. But she said it adds a further obstacle to a primary season that’s already perplexing to many voters.

“It’s not that the ballot is different. It’s just that this year we have such a contested primary, and a lot more candidates running, and a lot more dropping out, that people are paying a lot more attention to it,” Davis said. “Really, the best advice that we can give to voters is:  Read your ballot carefully.”

Click here to see a sample ballot

Secretary of State Jon Husted explains in a video posted online March 8 that GOP voters should select the same person twice if they want their choice to serve more than a few months in Congress.