CLEVELAND (WJW) — Ohioans will decide whether to make it harder to amend the state constitution, changing how they have been able to do that for more than 100 years.
If voters approve Issue 1, future amendments to the Ohio Constitution will need a 60% affirmative vote to pass, rather than the simple majority vote of 50% plus one vote that’s been in place since 1912.
Also, petitioners seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Ohio would need to gather signatures from at least 5% of electors in the most recent gubernatorial election in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, rather than just 44 counties.
“If this is a way to make legislators who aren’t responsive deal with an issue that they are avoiding, or deal with an issue that the electorate really cares about, then you are making it harder for the electorate to get those signatures, to get something on the ballot and to pass it,” said Professor Cherie Strachan, director of the non-partisan Bliss Institute of applied politics at the University of Akron.
Issue 1 is supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Buckeye Firearms Association and Right to Life organizations.
Among its most vocal supporters has been Ohio Secretary of State Frank Larose.
“If you don’t think your idea is broadly popular enough to muster 60% of the people, then maybe you should not consider bringing it to the ballot,” Larose said.
“By raising the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60%, the people will ensure amendments have widespread support and tell special interests that our constitution is not up for grabs,” reads an argument for the proposal signed by state GOP lawmakers. “By requiring signatures from voters in every county, special interest groups will no longer be able to cherry pick where they gather signatures.”
Those against issue 1 say it actually takes away majority rule in the state, leaving only one county able to defeat a ballot initiative supported by voters in all 87 others.
“It means just 40% of voters can block any issue, putting 40% of voters in charge of decision-making for the majority,” reads an argument against the proposal signed by state Democrats. “It would destroy citizen-driven ballot initiatives as we know them, guaranteeing that only wealthy special interests could advance changes to our constitution.”
“In the ultimate insult to the people at this time this body puts forth a resolution to make it nearly impossible for the people to amend their constitution under the false pretenses of protecting it. But to be clear, what I hear when the sponsors say they want to protect the constitution is that they want to protect the constitution from you, the people,” said Ohio Representative Bride Rose Sweeney of Westlake in an address on the house floor.
“Issue 1 could also have a huge range of impact on everything including voting rights, civil rights, (and) union rights in Ohio,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairperson Liz Walters told Fox 8 News. “It is already very very very hard for Ohio citizens to amend our constitution. The citizen lead ballot initiative is not a simple process, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of manpower, it takes a lot of money to get anything on the ballot for the citizen lead ballot initiative. That’s the hard work that we think is so important that happens.”
Opponents argue that the special August election is meant to interfere with a reproductive rights amendment expected to appear on Ohio ballots in November.
During a Lincoln Day dinner in Tiffin, Larose admitted just that.
“This is 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution. the left wants to jam it in there this coming November. so yes, it’s about abortion, but it’s about so many other things as well,” Larose said.
Issue 1 would raise the threshold needed for voters to approve an abortion rights amendment that could appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, which would enshrine access to abortion in Ohio in the state constitution following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer. Petitioners for that amendment have submitted more than 700,000 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, which now must be verified by county election boards.
Critics point out that even for supporters of Issue 1 who are focused on defeating short-term ballot initiatives, passage could make it much more difficult for them to pass something they feel is important in the future.
“I would encourage people to think about this in terms of the long term, this is a substantial change to our constitution long-term. Do you want it to be more onerous for average people to change our constitution? There are pros and cons on both sides and people have to make up their own minds,” Strachan said.