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Still Confusion Over Who Can Vote For What In March Primary

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Ohio’s primary is next Tuesday, and both parties are targeting voters here. And some voters who want to pick presidential candidates are saying they’re confused about what they’re seeing on the ballot – and others say they’re not being allowed to vote for their preferred presidential choice at all. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.  

Let’s start off with this important note – presidential candidates in Ohio are not directly elected in the primary. Only the delegates for those candidates are. And that’s important because voters who cast partisan ballots in the primary are hit with that in the very first question – which candidates’ delegates and delegates-at-large do you choose? And that first question can’t be answered Ohioans who are under 18. Joshua Eck with the Secretary of State’s office say this means 17 year olds who will be 18 on Election Day can vote in the primary for certain candidates, but not in other contests.

 “Those are things like levies or party positions like state central committee, and that also includes presidential delegates because you’re not nominating somebody for the general election.  You’re actually electing a delegate who will appear at the Republican or Democratic National Convention and they will then nominate someone to run in the general election.”  

Eck notes that 17 year olds who will be 18 by Election Day can pick nominees in the primaries for US Senate, Congress and the Ohio House and Senate – because those races will be decided this fall. Critics have blasted Secretary of State Jon Husted for clarifying that in a recent directive to boards of elections, but Eck says that rule goes back decades. But it’s a problem for Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.  

"If you are a 17 year old voter, you should have a voice and you should have a say in determining who your party’s candidate is going to be for any election, including the US presidential election. " 

Brickner and others say the rule is confusing, and the inability to vote in the presidential contest disenfranchises those 17 year old voters. But what may be even more confusing is the Republican ballot, where voters are asked two questions right off the bat. First, they’re asked to select a candidate’s delegate-at-large and alternate delegate-at-large, and then a candidate’s district delegates and district alternates. State lawmakers made Ohio a winner-take-all state for delegates last year, in the hopes that it would help Gov. John Kasich in his campaign for president. Eck said these questions are a holdover from when Ohio awarded delegates proportionally, based on the number of votes candidates received. He says all the votes for all the delegates will be counted, but only the candidate with the most delegates will win all of them.  

"This year the Ohio primary is a winner-take-all. So there will be no splitting of the delegates. You should vote for the candidate that you want to win Ohio’s delegates. But as far as which category the party will use for allocating those delegates, that’s a question for them. "

Eck recommends voting only for one preferred candidate on both questions, since only one candidate will win all the delegates. But Rob Walgate with the conservative group the Ohio Roundtable says it appears that Republican primary voters can vote for president twice – and that’s very confusing for voters.

"Shouldn’t have the Republican Party changed their language? When they made this decision in September 2015 and moved the primary to become a winner-take-all state, they should have started the process to change the language.  It’s not that difficult. This is far too confusing. "

Walgate says because candidates have been aggressively targeted Ohio’s 66 delegates, he fears lawsuits based on voter confusion. As of March 1, the Secretary of State’s office says more than 69,000 voters had cast early ballots, with more than 169,000 early ballots mailed out but not yet returned.

 

The Statehouse News Bureau was founded in 1980 to provide educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations. To this day, the Bureau remains the only broadcast outlet dedicated to in-depth coverage of state government news and topics of statewide interest. The Bureau is funded througheTech Ohio, and is managed by ideastream. The reporters at the Bureau follow the concerns of the citizens and voters of Ohio, as well as the actions of the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Supreme Court, and other elected officials. We strive to cover statehouse news, government issues, Ohio politics, and concerns of business, culture and the arts with balance and fairness, and work to present diverse voices and points of view from the Statehouse and throughout Ohio. The three award-winning journalists at the bureau have more than 60 combined years of radio and television experience. They can be heard on National Public Radio and are regular contributors to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Every weekday, the Statehouse News Bureau produces in-depth news reports forOhio's public radio stations. Those stories are also available on this website, either on the front page or in our archives. Weekly, the Statehouse News Bureau produces a television show from our studios in the Statehouse. The State of Ohio is an unique blend of news, interviews, talk and analysis, and is broadcast on Ohio's public television stations. The Statehouse News Bureau also produces special programming throughout the year, including the Governor's annual State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly and a five-part year-end review.
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