Some lawmakers want to close Ohio’s primaries, claiming without evidence voters are gaming the system

Ohio Primary Election
Posted at 7:36 PM, Sep 12, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Republicans have introduced legislation to close the state's primary elections. Each of the supporters provides no data or statistics backing up their claims that voters are gaming the system.

Ohioans have a choice going into primary election day. Right now, voters are able to pick whether they want a Republican, Democratic or an unaffiliated ballot that day.

GOP lawmakers want to change that.

"It's time that we really modernize the way that we do voter registration in party primaries in the state of Ohio," Sec. of State Frank LaRose said.

LaRose joined Republicans in introducing Senate Bill 147, which would close Ohio’s primaries. It would require voters to register with a political party 30 days before the election to be able to vote on that ballot.

This would prevent political “gamesmanship,” according to state Sen. Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) and state Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Madison Twp.) Hall introduced House Bill 208, the companion legislation.

"They have concerns about strategic party rating, voters cross party lines for weaker candidates," Reynolds said. "People should vote for the candidates they want and make an informed decision, not one that's politically charged."

But when it comes to people voting maliciously in primaries...

"What actual evidence do you have of that happening?" Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asked. "Do you have statistics?"

The team took a second to think.

"I'm sure that there are statistics out there, but it's a concern that many people have," LaRose responded.

Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau has been trying to investigate claims of party interference for a year now. If there were statistics, the head of elections would have them. When following up with the secretary’s team to see where the data was, Trau did not get a response. Hall didn't have data but provided anecdotes. Reynolds said to check with LaRose.

"I haven't seen any data to support that," House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said.

Voting rights advocates say the legislation is another way to suppress voters. If a voter doesn't register with a party in time, they will have to vote with a nonpartisan ballot, which won’t have any candidates on it.

"I'm generally opposed to closing off access to any elections, to any voters, as a general rule," Russo added.

It's not just Democrats who oppose or don't think closing the primaries is necessary.

"I think the system works pretty well," Republican Governor Mike DeWine said. "I don't see any urgent need to change it."

Even if someone wanted to vote for a weaker candidate in another party, they could still cross over the line and register before the deadline if they wanted to.

"Effectively, there's no way to administer a loyalty test or to determine whether someone really is a member of this party," LaRose said.

This bill and its companion in the House will be heard this fall.

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