Updated with comments from the Athens County Democratic Party and Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
Conrath was enlisted to run on the Democratic ticket after Rhyan Goodman, an Ohio University undergraduate student, dropped out of the race shortly after winning the unopposed Democratic primary. Republican members of the Athens County Board of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) both argued that Goodman’s decision to drop out before the board of elections had certified his candidacy prevented Democrats from appointing Conrath—or anyone—to take his place.
In a statement, Conrath, who has contrasted herself against Edwards’s “extremist,” positions on education and reproductive rights, wrote, “Today is a banner day for democracy, freedom and choice. What a relief to have the Ohio Supreme Court be the parent in the room and put a stop to this partisan bullying. The Court stood up for democracy and will give voters in Athens, Meigs, Morgan and Washington counties a clear choice of candidates in November.”
Athens County Democratic Party Chair Sean Parsons wrote, “We were certain the outcome would be in Tanya’s favor from the get go. It’s a disappointment that efforts made to prevent someone from being on the ballot created a legal hurdle that someone shouldn’t have had to overcome.… If the Republicans can’t gerrymander their way in to complete control of the state, they’ll rely on people like LaRose to limit people’s choices on election day.”
The Supreme Court opinion, written by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, and joined by justices Michael Donnelly, Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner (all Democrats), found that LaRose “acted in clear disregard” of existing Supreme Court caselaw, and “created an impermissible legal absurdity.” The Republican members of the board of elections—Aundrea Carpenter-Colvin and Gary Van Meter, who were both appointed by local party officials—also “acted in clear disregard of their legal duties,” the court found. Republican justices Sharon Kennedy, Patrick Fischer and Patrick DeWine all dissented.
The significant delay of the primary election date and the legislature’s failure to move filing deadlines accordingly created an “anomalous,” inherently contradictory situation that conflicted with previous Supreme Court rulings favoring competitive elections, the court wrote. That primary election delay was created by the repeated refusal of Republican Ohio Redistricting Commission members (including LaRose) to draw legislative maps in compliance with a constitutional amendment, as well as successive Supreme Court decisions requiring that maps be drawn to reflect voting patterns. The Republicans’ arguments about the filing deadlines were “unnecessary” and “resulted in a legal absurdity,” the Supreme Court found.
Election law experts who reviewed Republicans’ arguments at the request of the Independent dismissed them as “pretty thin” and “not especially meritorious, but creative.” Edwards, the incumbent, took the helm of the Athens County Republican Party in the months leading up to the election, but a member of the party’s central committee denied to the Independent that any pressure had been placed on its appointees to the county’s Board of Elections.
The board members have ignored all requests for comment from the Independent. Edwards has repeatedly declined to comment about Conrath, her candidacy, the board of elections split on her candidacy and the Supreme Court decision. A spokesperson for LaRose didn’t respond to a question about the Supreme Court’s finding that LaRose “acted in clear disregard” for the law and instead sent a one-sentence statement that the Secretary of State’s office is “working with the boards [of elections] to ensure that they have what they need as we all focus on the November 8 general election.”
Support our work to deliver independent local news for Athens County
Like what you are reading?
It’s unclear whether the decision comes too late for Conrath to fully mount a campaign. Overseas voting has already started, and voter registration ends today (October 11).
Additional reporting by Dani Kington
We are interested about hearing news in our community! Let us know what's happening!
Get in touch and share a story!