The murkiness of Ohio's elections laws was revealed again this week by a decision in Lucas County that apparently conflicted with what Rex Damschroder was being told would have been the policy in Sandusky County.
The Lucas County Board of Elections on Thursday certified two write-in candidates who were in the same situation as state Rep. Damschroder (R., Fremont): Shaun Enright and Dennis Duffey, both to the Lucas County Democratic Party Central Committee.
Enright and Duffey both turned in flawed petitions before the May 5 candidate filing deadline and then withdrew them after the deadline, but before the board of elections voted to disqualify their bad petitions.
On Thursday they were certified as write-in candidates.
Damschroder was expecting to coast to his first unopposed election this year in the 88th House District, but instead discovered he had omitted signatures on two of his five petitions.
He withdrew after the May 5 deadline as a candidate but before the Sandusky County Board of Elections acted, and then debated publicly whether he could then file as a write-in, which is a valid way of winning the Republican nomination (as long as you're certified as a write-in and you get at least 50 write-in votes).
He said he was advised by GOP lawyers in Columbus that he'd be disqualified if he tried to file as a write-in. (The deadline was Feb. 24). He's calling the fall-back plan "Help Me Rhonda" because his wife is the key. Rhonda Damschroder will run as a write-in. If she wins the nomination on May 6 she'll step aside and the Sandusky and Seneca county GOP chairman would appoint him to replace her as the GOP nominee.
Why would the Lucas County elections board vote unanimously (except for the absent Tony DeGidio) to certify two candidates while the Republican lawyers in Columbus take the opposite position in a nearly identical case?
The Lucas County position seems to be the more commonsense reading of the law, and if it errs, does so on the side of letting people on the ballot.
The controversy in Sandusky County has emboldened two other Republicans and a Democrat to take him on, and the Damschroders' plan to have Rhonda openly run as a "place-holder" has drawn a Democratic protest.
My Blade colleague Federico Martinez has a story about the Lucas County petitions in today's paper.
Here's what the Secretary of State’s 2014 candidates’ handbook says about candidates getting a second bite at the apple after filing a flawed petition:
“...a candidate who timely withdraws his or her candidacy prior to board action on his or her petition and prior to the filing deadline may file a new petition for the same or a different office in the same election as the withdrawn petition.
“... ‘timely withdraws’ means … (w)ithdrawing as a candidate before the applicable filing deadline for filing a declaration of candidacy, declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate, or nominating petition for the subsequent office for which the person is seeking to become a candidate at the same election.”