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Confusion Over Delegates Has Some Ohioans Questioning Their Primary Votes

Ohio Secretary of State
Portions of sample Republican and Democratic primary ballots

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.

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 by 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,” Eck said. “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 said.

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,” Eck said. “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,” Walgate said.  “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.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at