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Why it matters that panel denied stamp of approval for absentee ballots stamps

by Ohio political columnist Thomas Suddes

For Democrat Joe Biden to carry Ohio – a long shot at best – he must maximize voter turnout in the Buckeye State. That’s why President Donald Trump’s Statehouse allies are moving heaven and earth to hold down turnout– or at least not boost it.

Accordingly, four Republican state legislators who sat as members of Ohio’s Controlling Board Monday – they’re paid $150 per meeting day – vetoed a request by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose to pay for the return postage on absentee ballots for Nov. 3′s election.

The 4-2 vote (with the Controlling Board’s seventh member, an executive branch president representing Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, not voting) touched off the usual Statehouse falderal about “public policy” and “appropriation authority.”

The real story: If somehow Biden captured Ohio’s electoral votes – and that’s a colossal if – Biden’s statewide popular vote margin might be no bigger than Democrat Jimmy Carter’s over Republican Gerald Ford in 1976 (11,000 votes) or Democrat Harry Truman’s 7,100-vote Ohio edge over Republican Thomas Dewey in 1948. So this year, s in 1976 and 1948, Democrats must maximize Ohio turnout. Result: Campaign 2020 is being fought house-to-house in Ohio, as well as mailbox-to-mailbox.

Making it easier for Ohioans to mail an absentee ballot would boost turnout. Making it harder (or at least “not easier”) would hold down turnout. Those are the stakes. That is the game.

These political factors also contributed to last week’s antics:

> After last week’s vote, DeWine indicated he supported paying return postage on absentee ballots but acknowledged that didn’t have legislative support. DeWine is hugely popular with Ohioans. But he’s unpopular with a fair number of General Assembly Republicans who think (or claim they think) that aspects of DeWine’s anti-coronavirus fight represent a power grab. (That’s what they’re hearing in South Succotash, anyway, so it must be true.)

Bottom line: DeWine could go into a 2022 re-election campaign with uncertain backing from GOP legislators. (Meanwhile, his son, Ohio Supreme Court Justice R. Patrick DeWine, may run for Supreme Court chief justice in 2022.) Don’t say Republican legislators would never take a walk on Mike DeWine’s reelection. One reason for Democratic Gov. John J. Gilligan’s razor-thin loss to Republican James A. Rhodes in 1974 was Rhodes’s popularity as a deal-maker with some Democrats.

>The General Assembly is stalling repeal of House Bill 6, the rancid nuclear power plant bailout backed by FirstEnergy Corp. and crafted by ex-House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican now under federal indictment. It’s clear as Saran Wrap that Ohioans want HB 6 repealed. It’s also obvious repealing HB 6 might suggest that legislators' gratitude to big contributors might not be as ironclad as it was. That could limit future big bucks fundraising – something only Ohio’s voters want.

> Republicans (and insurance companies and electric utilities) are nervous about this year’s two state Supreme Court races. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell, a Lakewood Democrat, is challenging the re-election of Republican Justice Sharon Kennedy, of Middletown. Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat on the Ohio Court of Appeals (10th District), is challenging the re-election of Republican Justice Judith French.

The Controlling Board Republicans who voted against paying return postage on Ohio voters' absentee ballots were Sen. William Coley, of suburban Middletown; Rep. Scott Oelslager, of North Canton; Sen. Bob Peterson, of Washington Court House; and Rep. Shane Wilkin, of Hillsboro (coincidentally, co-sponsor, of the HB 6 nuclear power plant bailout). If Donald Trump knew the meaning of the word “gratitude,” he’d thank them – because he owes them.

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. Previously, he was a veteran Statehouse reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

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