Closing Ohio’s Primaries, Part I

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Ohio’s Primary elections are currently open, which means any voter, no matter their party affiliation, can pull a ballot for any party in a primary election. While both Republican and Democrat voters have “party hopped” in the past, in recent primaries, elections analysts have noticed substantial numbers of Democrats crossing party lines to vote in Republican primaries.

Primary elections are held so that voters can determine which candidates are going to appear for their party on the general election ballot. The intention is to allow voters from each party to choose the candidate that best represents their party. In Ohio and other open primary states, however, voters can “pull ballots” from any party and vote in that party’s primary. For instance, a Democrat, Independent or unaffiliated voter can pull a Republican primary ballot and vote for which Republican will appear on the general election ballot.

Twenty states, including Ohio, have open primaries.

Why it matters

Cross-party voting can be a strategy to get an undesirable candidate onto the ballot, thereby making an opposing party less likely to win in the general election. It can also be used to increase the chances that a more moderate or opposition-friendly candidate appears on the ballot, or as we have seen alleged quite often in Republican-dominated Ohio, Democrat candidates in heavily-Republican areas can switch party affiliation to increase their chances of being elected (regardless of their actual beliefs and intentions). Then cross-party primary voting can be used to get them onto the general election ballot, thereby circumventing the two-party system.

Closing our Primaries

The discussion around closing our primaries resurfaces with every election cycle. Currently, there are two bills in the Ohio House of Representatives that seek to close our primaries: House Bill 210 and House Bill 437.

House Bill 210
Sponsored by Representative Jennifer Gross and Representative Gary Click, House Bill 210 was introduced in June 2023 and referred to the house Government Oversight Committee. The committee held a first hearing for the bill in December 2023. (Find sponsor proponent testimony here.)

Main features of the bill include: (Click here for a detailed summary of the bill)

for voters…

  • Changes Ohio’s primary elections to a closed primary system in which an elector must be registered as affiliated with a political party in order to vote that party’s ballot at a primary.
  • Requires a newly registered elector to register as affiliated with a party by the 30th day before the day of the primary in order to vote that party’s ballot at the primary.
  • Requires a registered elector who wishes to change the elector’s party affiliation to submit a registration update form by December 31 of the year before the primary election in order to vote that party’s ballot at the primary.
  • Requires an elector to be registered as affiliated with a political party in order to vote that party’s ballot at the primary.
  • Continues to allow any elector, regardless of affiliation, to cast an issues-only ballot on the day of a primary election.

for candidates

  • Requires a candidate to be registered as affiliated with a party in order to appear on that party’s primary ballot.
  • Requires a primary candidate who is changing party affiliation to be registered as affiliated with the new party by December 31 or by the candidate filing deadline, whichever is earlier
  • Requires an independent candidate to be registered as unaffiliated by the independent filing deadline in order to run as an independent candidate.
  • Allows any elector to sign an independent candidate’s nominating petition, as under current law.

In March of 2024, House Bill 437 was also introduced and assigned to the same committee. House Bill 437 is Sponsored by Representative Beth Lear and Representative Brian Lorenz. The Legislative Summary is not yet available for House Bill 437, but the full bill text is available here. The scope and intentions are similar to HB 210. With both bills referred to the same committee, citizens are anticipating the two bills will be merged soon.

Listen to an interview with bill sponsor Representative Beth Lear.

Next week in Part II, we will examine the differences between the bills, objections and pitfalls to closing primaries, and solutions proposed by other conservatives.

1 Response

  1. 04/17/2024

    […] For background on Ohio’s primaries, See Closing Ohio’s Primaries, Part 1 here […]

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