With maps in limbo and filing deadline looming, running for Statehouse seats complicated

Ohio Statehouse

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Ohio Statehouse

Candidates for Statehouse seats have to pull petitions and gather signatures before a Feb. 2 filing deadline, but currently don’t know exactly who they will represent or which district they are seeking.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission will meet again Thursday afternoon to work on new state House and Senate district maps. It will be the second time the commission has convened since the Ohio Supreme Court overturned the maps commissioners approved in September as gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

The court set a 10-day deadline for new maps to be approved. House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said that deadline will come Saturday. Cupp co-chairs the redistricting commission with state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron.

The lack of final maps complicates the process for candidates. If someone living in Centerville or Moraine, for example, wanted to run for office, it’s unclear whether they would file to run against state Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, or state Rep. Tom Young, R-Washington Twp.

Candidates also need qualified signatures from voters in each district in order to run. But without knowing the boundaries, it’s unclear which voters’ signatures will eventually count.

“It’s going to be an issue,” Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Owens said. “They can’t even fill out the forms because they don’t know what number their district will be.”

Most of Dayton is now represented by the 39th House District, for example, but in the map struck down by the Supreme Court it was the 38th District.

Owens himself lives in a Dayton precinct that is represented by different people on the current and struck-down maps. He said he hopes the General Assembly pushes back the filing deadline, as they did with congressional races.

Young disagrees. Young, a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said lawmakers should give elections boards some leeway — accepting forms filed with the wrong district number if it changes, for example — but not move the deadlines.

“We should not mess with any part of the election process whatsoever,” he said.

Gathering the 50 signatures needed for a Statehouse race is not that difficult, he said.

John Wilson intends to run as a Democrat against White. He lives in Oakwood, where he is school board vice president. He and his neighbors are in the same district on both maps. He said candidates often need two to three times as many signatures as the minimum to make sure they get enough valid ones. He is waiting for clarity on which areas to canvas.

“Now I’m waiting in limbo for some kind of decision to be made, and that causes a lot of frustration because that window gets more and more narrow,” he said.

White acknowledged the uncertainty about the district lines.

“One thing I am certain of is this: I love this community and this region, so no matter where the lines end up I’m going to keep focused on understanding the needs and working for the people I represent every day to the best of my ability,” White said.

Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Jeff Rezabek said they are advising candidates to get signatures as close to the center of the district they are running for as possible to avoid issues if the boundaries change.

Rezabek himself is a former state legislator who represented the 43rd District, which became the 39th District on the map struck down by the court.

“Technically, right know I don’t know what number it’s going to be,” he said.

He said he hopes state leaders provide clarity on handling the change in numbers and boundaries.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent letters this week to fellow Republicans Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman asking lawmakers to give him authority to adjust election administration deadlines to account for the shortened timeframes.

His letter expresses confidence that Ohio’s 88 elections boards can hold a May 3 primary. But it cites concerns that they will need weeks to reprogram their systems before verifying candidate nominating petitions.

“Additionally, the boards must prepare ballots, accommodate overseas military voters, public election notifications, test the performance of election tabulation and tracking systems, deploy voting equipment, and many more tasks required in law to be performed on or by a certain date,” the letter says.

State lawmakers last year pushed the filing deadline for U.S. congressional races to March 4, and gave LaRose discretion on changing deadlines on actions like filing protests or certifying ballots.

“It is imperative that the same temporary authority be granted to my office for the purpose of accommodating the expedited timeframe associated with the new state House and Senate districts,” the letter says.