Vote NO in August 

After the Republicans in Columbus outlawed August special elections in House Bill 458 earlier this year, they have now decreed that we will have a statewide special election on August 8, 2023. Conducting this election will cost over $20 million taxpayer dollars. Why is this so urgently important?  Because this move will effectively eliminate a right Ohio citizens have held for over 100 years, the right for Ohio citizens to petition ballot initiatives to amend the Ohio Constitution. In August, we will be voting on what has now been designated State Issue 1, formerly known as Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would amend the Ohio Constitution to make it almost impossible for Ohioans to amend the Ohio Constitution.

The Current Process For Citizens Initiatives

Currently the Ohio Constitution may be amended by Ohio citizens directly without going through the General Assembly. This process requires petitions to be filed with the Ohio Secretary of State to put a proposed amendment on the ballot.  Those petitions must contain signatures of registered Ohio voters equal to ten percent of the number of people who voted in the last election for Ohio governor.  In addition, there must be signatures by registered voters in at least 44 Ohio counties equal in number to five percent of the number of people in each county who voted in the last election for Ohio governor.  If petitions with sufficient signatures are filed, the proposed amendment is put on an election ballot. The amendment becomes effective if 50% plus one of the people voting in that election vote in favor.  Issue 1, if passed, changes this dramatically.

The Republican’s Proposed Changes

Issue 1 changes the requirements for the number of petition signatures necessary to get a proposed amendment on the ballot.  Issue 1 would require signatures by registered voters in each of Ohio’s 88 counties equal in number to five percent of the registered voters in that county. To show how big a change that is, the difference in Clermont County is that five percent of the number of people in Clermont who voted in the 2022 election is 4,022. Five percent of all current registered voters in the County is 7,191. If all the required petition signatures are obtained, the amendment will still go on an election ballot.  However, the amendment will not become effective unless it receives votes in favor by at least 60% of the people voting in that election.

What’s Wrong With Issue 1?

A lot of things. Among others, it enshrines minority rule. A proposed amendment could receive petition signatures from 90% of the voters in Ohio. However, if only 4.9% of the voters in just one county sign the petition, the amendment would not go on the ballot. If the amendment reaches the ballot, it could receive yes votes from 59.99 percent of voters. In that case, the amendment would fail. By requiring so many more signatures to get an amendment on the ballot and a super-majority to pass the amendment, Issue 1 would assure that grassroots efforts to amend our state constitution are doomed to failure. Only special interests with millions of dollars to spend on gathering signatures and then persuading voters will have any chance of getting amendments passed. Our state constitution will become the private property of the rich, like the Illinois billionaire who has already put at least a million dollars into supporting Issue 1.

Who Supports Issue 1?

Most prominently, the Republicans who run Ohio government. They support it, in part, because they fear that a majority of Ohioans will vote for the Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment that will probably be on the ballot in November.  More fundamentally, the Republicans are still smarting from last year’s Supreme Court rulings that their General Assembly and Congressional districts violate the Ohio Constitution. The parts of the state constitution that those districts violate were added to the Ohio Constitution a few years ago by citizen initiated constitutional amendments. A federal court required us to vote last year using these illegal districts. However, Republicans fear new constitutional amendments that could prevent them from getting away with gerrymandering in the future. Fair districts in Ohio would eliminate, at least, the Republican super majorities in the General Assembly. Republicans see Issue 1 as a way to protect themselves from fair districts.

There is another reason Republicans called a special August election for Issue 1. Nothing else will be on the August 8 ballot.  Most voters are much more interested in candidates, people, than ballot issues.  With local offices on the ballot this November, many Ohioans will come out to vote then to support candidates and incumbents whom they know personally.  Although a ballot issue does not bring those voters out to vote, they may well vote on the issue while they are voting.  Republicans do not want that.  Republicans do not want Issue 1 on the ballot anything else which might bring people to the polls.  For Republicans, having Issue 1 on the ballot in an election in which few people vote is certainly worth the millions of tax dollars the August 8 special election will cost.

Republicans were not, however, confident that putting Issue 1 on the ballot by itself in an August special election was sufficiently stacking the deck. They went farther when the three Republicans on the State Ballot Board approved the language which will appear on the ballot about Issue 1. The heading, which will appear on the ballot in all capital letters, bold print, and larger font, says “ELEVATING THE STANDARDS TO QUALIFY FOR AND PASS ANY CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.” Who could be against “elevating standards?” Nowhere does the approved ballot language say what the current standards are, or that any standards currently exist. Nowhere does the approved ballot language inform voters that voting for Issue 1 means that you want to make it much more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution. The Republican majority on the Ballot Board does not want the voters who do turn out for the August 8 special election to understand what they are voting on or what their vote means.

Who else supports Issue 1?  Big business as represented by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the state trade association for restaurants.  Why do they support Issue 1?  Because they fear a proposed constitutional amendment in 2024 to raise Ohio’s minimum wage.  Rather than putting their case to the voters about why they should not raise the minimum wage, big business prefers that Ohioans never get the opportunity to vote on it.

Why Are We Voting On Issue 1 In An August Special Election?

Simple, very few Ohioans vote in August special elections.  Statewide special elections are rare, but we had one just last year.  Only eight percent of registered Ohio voters voted.  Even if four times that number of people vote this August, less than eighteen percent of Ohio voters could pass Issue 1 and make it part of our state constitution.  Republicans see an opportunity for a small minority of Ohioans to enshrine minority rule.

What should we do? The very simple answer is vote NO in August! Because August 8 will be a low turnout election, whether Issue 1 passes or is defeated will depend on who comes out to vote. The procedure for amending the Ohio Constitution is the sort of legalistic issue that only lawyers and political geeks get interested in. It is vitally important that every one of us makes sure our family and friends know that Issue 1 is not about legalism. Issue 1 is about whether Ohioans can still control the basic rules for our state government. Once our family and friends understand that indisputable point, we need to make sure they vote. Ohioans must stand up to the Republicans and special interests and vote NO in August.

Stay safe.