Ohio’s 2020 primary may be held on St. Patrick’s Day

WARREN — Should legislators decide the March primary election will be on St. Patrick’s Day, Ohio will be ready to run “honest, fair” elections, said Ohio’s chief elections official, who’s also reminding voters they have plenty of time to cast a ballot before Election Day should celebrating conflict with voting.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose responded to a letter from 24 Democratic state lawmakers concerned the move would stifle voter turnout with his own letter Tuesday and further discussed the issue Wednesday during a swing through Warren.

As it stands now, Ohio would join Illinois, Arizona and Florida in setting the 2020 primary on March 17 should lawmakers leave the provision in the state’s two-year budget that’s being negotiated now in Columbus.

LaRose also noted Ohio has 28 days of early no-fault absentee voting, which is “significantly more than the national average” and Ohio is one of just 20 states with Saturday voting and one of just six states with Sunday voting.

“If you have to start drinking green beer at 6:30 that morning and you can’t go vote first, then you can vote by mail, you can vote absentee, you can vote in person at the board of elections, so there is a lot of options,” LaRose said at the Trumbull County Board of Elections. “I have the confidence that regardless of what day the Legislature chooses, if they chose the 17th, we’ll be ready to run honest, fair elections that day.”

LaRose said he reached out to several elections boards to ask elections officials if they could run fair elections if the date falls on the 17th.

“They said ‘yes, we’ve got plenty of notice. If we have to move a couple polling locations because of St. Patrick’s Day parades, we’ll move a couple polling locations. If we have a few poll workers who can’t work on St. Patrick’s Day because they have to do their St. Patrick’s Day festivities, they we have time to recruit more pollworkers,” LaRose said.

Senate Republicans inserted the change into the budget proposal at the request of the Ohio Republican Party to be in line with Republican National Committee rules that set March 15 as the deadline for states to award delegates at the national convention on a winner-take-all basis.

If Ohio keeps the primary on March 10, the delegates would be proportional should President Donald Trump face competition.

Other factors in favor of March 17 are moving the election to March 24 would make the filing deadline for candidates on Christmas Eve. Moving it another week forward would make the filing deadline on New Year’s Eve.

According to state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, any moves in the date of the primary could present an issue.

“It would change when you have to file,” Cera explained.

“You’d be pushing that deadline to late December. I don’t know what kind of problems that would cause for election boards.”

Cera said he was not aware the letter was being sent to LaRose, adding that many of the signatures came from legislators who represent Cuyahoga County and the surrounding area, out of concern for conflicts that could arise with Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

He said he is not in favor of holding the election on St. Patrick’s Day, and added he was behind a bill that would permanently lock Ohio’s primary date into May, including presidential election years.

State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, said he doesn’t think there will be a problem getting people to the polls whenever the primary is held.

“People are going to be motivated to go out and vote for whoever they are going to vote for,” he said.