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Patricia Lopez: Ohio and Alabama are playing ballot games with Biden

Patricia Lopez, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Op Eds

Call it political tit-for-tat. Election officials in Ohio and Alabama have warned President Joe Biden that he might be left off their ballots in November because the Democrats’ mid-August nominating convention is past their deadlines.

This is a new and dangerous level of partisan gamesmanship. The top election officials in both states happen to be Republicans.

Even though both Biden and Donald Trump have secured enough delegates for their parties’ nomination, it doesn’t become official until the nominating conventions this summer. The Democratic National Convention, which begins Aug. 19, means Biden would miss the Ohio deadline by 12 days and the Alabama one by about a week. In this day and age, there is no need for a state to demand 89 days advance notice— or even 82 days — to include a candidate on a ballot.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Cleveland.com that no major-party presidential nominee, let alone the incumbent president, has ever been excluded from a state ballot over what is essentially a technicality.

Deliberately leaving the Democratic nominee off the ballot because a deadline was missed by two weeks or less is a cynical and offensive approach to what should be a mostly nonpartisan office. Secretaries of state, no matter their party, are charged with administering elections on behalf of all voters. Most take a fair and scrupulously neutral approach to the job.

And yet, in a letter to Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters, the office of Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that “the Democratic National Committee must either move up its nominating convention or the Ohio General Assembly must act by May 9, 2024 (90 days prior to a new law’s effective date) to create an exception to this statutory requirement.” LaRose, by the way, won Trump’s endorsement back when he was running for secretary of state in 2022.

The idea of scrapping and rescheduling an entire national convention is absurd. The location, Chicago, was chosen a year ago. Some 50,000 visitors are expected to attend. Dozens of hotels have convention dates locked in to host delegates and other attendees.

Of course, the far easier path would be the legislative exemption, but LaRose has not offered to seek one, nor has the GOP-controlled Ohio Legislature expressed interest in granting one.

That’s curious because the state granted such an exemption in 2020 when Biden and then-President Trump both had late nominating conventions. Alabama also made a temporary accommodation that year, cutting its deadline to 75 days to ensure the Republican National Convention would be in the window. Ohio also granted an exemption in 2012, when Republican and Democratic conventions were held after the deadline.

So, what’s the problem this time? Only the Democratic candidate would be affected. The Republican National Convention is July 15-18, so there is plenty of time for Trump to make the ballot.

Biden officials have noted that state officials can grant provisional ballot access certification and that in 2020, Alabama, Illinois, Montana, and Washington all allowed provisional certification for Democratic and Republican nominees. However, a spokesperson for Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen appeared to be taking a much harder line, telling CNN, “Under Alabama law, there are no ‘provisional certifications’ for candidates. All candidates must comply with current Alabama law to gain ballot access.”

 

This sudden fanatical adherence to an obscure administrative deadline is a farce. Political conventions are often held in mid-to-late August. In 2008, Republicans waited until Sept. 1 to kick off their nominating convention, a week after the Democratic convention on Aug. 26.

Deadlines requiring these huge lead times are themselves an anachronism, save for those seeking to cause mischief.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, the deadlines are all over the place, from Alaska, which only requires 48 days' notice, to New Hampshire, which waits until late October for official notification of nominees. Many states opt for sometime in September of the election year. California pushes it to Oct. 1, while Iowa sets its deadline 81 days before the election, but sensibly allows conventions that occur later to submit nominees “within 5 days after adjournment.” No, gotcha, rules there.

Notably, Ohio and Alabama were among the dozen states that joined a brief supporting Trump when he was disqualified from the Colorado primary ballot. LaRose and others argued that Colorado (and Maine) officials lacked the authority to disqualify Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. The brief noted that “allowing elected Secretaries of State to make time-sensitive and unreviewable decisions about ballot qualification will lead to partisan abuse. Tit-for-tat disqualification decisions, if abused by partisan actors, sets a dangerous precedent for a deeply-divided Nation.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately rescued Trump, declaring unanimously that such candidate qualifications should be left to Congress.

That legal issue, at least, had the virtue of being a serious one, a clash of opinions on a gravely important matter. It’s vastly different from denying voters the opportunity to see their party’s nominee on the ballot because of a technicality.

Rules for thee but not for me is seldom a good idea — especially when it comes to what should be the impartial administration of elections that are the very foundation on which our democracy rests.

____

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Patricia Lopez is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. She is a former member of the editorial board at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she also worked as a senior political editor and reporter.


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com/opinion. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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