DeWine calls legislative session to get Biden on Ohio ballot, with a catch

Governor aims to link presidential ballot move with law banning campaign spending by foreign nationals; Democrats oppose new rules for ballot initiative groups

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that he will call a special session of the state’s General Assembly next Tuesday in order to pass legislation to allow President Joe Biden to appear on the ballot as well as to ban campaign spending from foreign nationals on ballot issues.

In doing so, he called upon Article III, section 8 of the Ohio constitution, which allows the governor to convene a special session of the legislature on “extraordinary occasions” where only certain measures will be discussed.

“This is simply unacceptable,” the governor said, saying that time was running out for legislation to pass to allow both major presidential candidates to appear on the ballot.

“It’s important that when [Ohio voters] go to cast their ballot that Joe Biden is on the ballot as well as Donald Trump,” he said.

He said that in the past the legislature had passed short-term fixes to deal with the problem, saying that they are “very easy to do.” The governor also said that there is a need for a long-term fix for this problem, but said, “For now, I will certainly be satisfied with a short-term fix.”

DeWine said that the special session would need to be early next week, saying that Ohio is “right up against the wall” on timing to fix this problem, and would need to have it done by Wednesday.

“I have waited, I have been patient, but my patience has run out,” he said.

Reporters questioned DeWine’s including the measure to ban foreign money from state ballot initiative campaigns, a measure that previously stopped the ballot fix from passing when it was added to the bill by Senate Republicans, due to opposition from Ohio Democrats and divisions among the state’s Republican legislators.

DeWine repeatedly defended including the measure in the special session, saying he thought it was important to ban money from people who aren’t Ohio citizens from being used for Ohio ballot campaigns. Democrats said the Ohio Elections Commission already ruled that foreign nationals donating to ballot campaigns is prohibited.

The Associated Press reported that the measure came a year after money tied to a Swiss billionaire was used to boost the campaign to enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio constitution.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman on Wednesday said that their proposal to include a foreign spending ban in a bill allowing Biden on the ballot is “a classic compromise bill. Dems want Biden on the ballot. The Republicans would like to keep foreign money out of our statewide elections.”

Asked by a reporter why a compromise was needed — why Republicans wouldn’t want Biden on the ballot — Huffman said: “Not all Republicans think the same things all the time. Same as Democrats. Same as reporters, I bet. And there are a lot of people who simply weren’t going to vote for a freestanding bill that put Joe Biden on the ballot.”

The Ohio Democratic Party has expressed frustration that Republicans are trying to extract a quid-pro-quo agreement regarding passage of Senate Bill 215 rather than passing a simple bill to put Biden on the ballot.

A Democratic Party spokesman said language in SB 215 would put new burdens on groups trying to get constitutional amendments or initiative petitions on the ballot, including requiring those groups to file as Political Action Committees with tracking of campaign finance.

The Democratic spokesman said Republicans are trying to make it harder for everyday Ohioans to create ballot issues, at a time when a Republican supermajority controls what laws pass or even come up for a vote in the legislature. He said citizen-led ballot issues are a crucial tool, pointing to the recent votes on abortion and marijuana where a majority of Ohioans showed they want policies that the legislature will not even pursue.

“Throughout this process, corrupt GOP politicians in Columbus have prevented Ohioans from choosing who they want to be president, politicized the process and used it to play political games with Ohioans’ ability to hold their government accountable,” Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Walters wrote in a statement. She also urged the passage of the Ohio Anti-Corruption Act, which she said “would require dark money groups to identify their funders, disclose their spending, and strengthen the ban on foreign money.”

Walters called for a clean bill to put Joe Biden on the ballot, but added, “despite Republicans’ political gamesmanship, we’re confident Joe Biden will be on the Ohio ballot.”

Senator J.D. Vance supported DeWine’s call for a special session, calling the inclusion of the foreign funding measure in the session a “reasonable compromise.” He also claimed that Trump would defeat Biden either way, but said that “a lot of Trump voters might sit at home if there isn’t a real presidential race,” which could hurt Republican candidates in other races.

In a release, Ohio Republican Party Communications Director Dan Lusheck said that the party agreed “wholeheartedly” with the decision to call an emergency session to place President Joe Biden on the ballot.

“We, along with our Senate nominee Bernie Moreno, Senator JD Vance, and countless other Republicans, strongly support the idea that Ohioans deserve the opportunity to cast their votes for their preferred major-party candidate and that we also deserve to have elections that are free from foreign financial interests. We encourage all legislators to get this done for the good of all Ohioans.”

The problem with getting President Biden on the ballot came about due to the timing of the Democratic National Convention, which will be held Aug. 19-22 in Chicago. Ohio’s ballot deadline is Aug. 7.