Ohio lawmakers holding special session to ensure President Biden is on 2024 ballot

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers gathered Tuesday for a rare special session called by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to pass legislation ensuring President Joe Biden appears on the state’s fall ballot.

Legislators have done this before for Republicans as well as Democrats, but the ability of voters to speak directly through the ballot initiative process on questions such as abortion has made reaching a solution more difficult in both chambers, where the GOP has lopsided majorities.

Negotiations between House and Senate on a solution to Biden’s ballot conundrum began Friday. State Rep. Bill Seitz told reporters during a conference call that he and state Sen. Rob McColley, both Republicans, are leading the talks, with no resolution announced as of Tuesday.

The legislation needs only to move Ohio’s Aug. 7 ballot deadline so that it falls after the Democratic National Convention where Biden will be formally nominated, which is scheduled for Aug. 19-22, in Chicago. The Republican convention, in Milwaukee, is July 15-18, so it doesn’t run afoul of Ohio’s rules this year.

Since Ohio changed its certification deadline from 60 to 90 days ahead of its general election, state lawmakers have had to adjust the requirement twice, in 2012 and 2020, to accommodate candidates of both leading parties. Each change was only temporary.

But the Senate sent its version of the ballot fix to the House after attaching a prohibition on foreign nationals donating to Ohio ballot campaigns, stopping it in its tracks.

DeWine urged legislators to pass the combination measure during the special session, but Democrats have balked, saying the proposal goes beyond the foreign nationals ban to add requirements intended to make it more difficult to mount future ballot campaigns in the state.

That’s after Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved three ballot measures last year, including a constitutional amendment protecting access to abortions that Republicans opposed and an initiated statute legalizing adult-use marijuana.

A “clean” House bill containing only the adjustment to Ohio’s ballot deadline may also be considered.

Due to differing interpretations of the proclamation DeWine issued Thursday, the Ohio Senate scheduled a single day of activity for Tuesday, while the Ohio House plans to begin with two days of committee hearings before taking its vote Thursday.

A Senate spokesman has said it’s possible the upper chamber can convene Tuesday and then recess to wait for the House.

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