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Ohio House pairs fix assuring President Biden is on fall ballot with foreign nationals giving ban

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A temporary fix allowing President Joe Biden to appear on this fall’s ballot cleared the Ohio House during a rare special session Thursday, along with a ban on foreign nationals contributing to state ballot campaigns that representatives said was demanded in exchange by the Ohio Senate.

The Senate was expected to take up both bills on Friday — though fractured relations between the chambers means their successful passage was not guaranteed.

The special session was ostensibly called to address the fact that Ohio’s deadline for making the November ballot falls on Aug. 7, about two weeks before the Democratic president was set to be formally nominated at the party’s Aug. 19-22 convention in Chicago. Democrats’ efforts to qualify Biden provisionally were rejected by Ohio’s attorney general.

The Democratic National Committee had moved to neutralize the need for any vote in Ohio earlier in the week, when it announced it would solve Biden’s problem with Ohio’s ballot deadline itself by holding a virtual roll call vote to nominate him. A committee vote on that work-around is set for Tuesday.

On Thursday, Democrats in the Ohio House accused Republican supermajorities in both chambers of exploiting the Biden conundrum to undermine direct democracy in Ohio, where voters sided against GOP leaders’ prevailing positions by wide margins on three separate ballot measures last year. That included protecting abortion access in the state Constitution, turning back a proposal to make it harder to pass such constitutional amendments in the future, and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Political committees involved in the former two efforts took money from entities that had received donations over the past decade from Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, though any direct path from him to the Ohio campaigns is untraceable under campaign finance laws left unaddressed in the House legislation. Wyss lives in Wyoming.

“We should not be exchanging putting the President of the United States on the ballot for a massive power grab by the Senate majority. That is what this vote is about,” state Rep. Dani Isaacsohn, a Cincinnati Democrat, said before both bills cleared a House committee along party lines.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, a Republican attorney from Cincinnati who spearheaded House negotiations on the compromise, said the amended House bill offered Thursday was significantly pared down from a version against which voting rights advocates pushed back Wednesday.

Among other things, it reduced penalties for violations, changed enforcement provisions and added language to assure the prohibition doesn’t conflict with existing constitutional protections political donations have been afforded, such as through the 2020 Citizens United decision.

“What we’re trying to do here is to try to ferret out the evil construct of foreign money in our elections,” Seitz said during floor debate on the measure, which cleared the chamber 64-31.

If it becomes law, the foreign nationals bill has the potential to impact ballot issues headed toward Ohio’s Nov. 5 ballot, including those involving redistricting law changes, a $15 minimum wage, qualified immunity for police and protecting voting rights.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost in a ruling Wednesday night to certify language on the qualified immunity measure, which would make it easier for Ohioans to sue police for using excessive force, and to send it directly to the Ohio Ballot Board. Yost has appealed.

The ballot fix, which applies only to this year’s election, passed 63-31.

Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press

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