Amending the Ohio Constitution 

Republicans hold super-majorities in both houses of the Ohio General Assembly. Republicans hold all statewide elected executive offices (Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor). Republicans hold a majority of seats on the Ohio Supreme Court. Currently Ohio citizens who do not agree with the governing elite’s right-wing agenda can put provisions into the Ohio Constitution by petition. This is the only option Ohio citizens have to limit the self-perpetuating power of the GOP in state government.

Amending the Ohio Constitution without first obtaining permission from the General Assembly is a right Ohio citizens have had for over 100 years. That right is now under concerted attack. This is something you will be hearing about from me a lot over the next few months.

At present, there are two paths by which amendments to the state constitution may be adopted. Amendments can be proposed by a two-thirds of both houses of the General Assembly or amendments can be proposed by citizen petitions.  Currently in either case, the proposed amendment is put to a statewide vote and the amendment becomes a part of the Ohio Constitution if more than 50% of voters approve it.

The Republicans in the General Assembly intend to make it practically impossible for Ohio citizens to amend the Ohio Constitution. They propose to do this through two essentially identical pieces of legislation called House Joint Resolution 1 (“HJR 1”) and Senate Joint Resolution 2 (“SJR 2”).

Citizen-initiated amendments to the Ohio Constitution are already difficult to do

First, at least 1,000 registered Ohio voters must sign a petition which must be submitted to the Ohio Attorney General along with the proposed constitutional amendment and a summary of the amendment. The Attorney General decides whether the summary, which will go on the ballot, is a fair and truthful summary of the proposed amendment. If the Attorney General approves the summary, the proposed amendment then goes to the Ohio Ballot Board. The Ballot Board must decide whether the proposed amendment may go on the ballot as a single amendment or must be treated as multiple proposed amendments.

If the proposed amendment makes it past the Attorney General and the Ballot Board, the hard work begins

Under current law, an amendment to the Ohio Constitution proposed by citizens can only go on the ballot for Ohioans to vote on if two requirements are met.

  1. Petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State containing valid signatures of registered Ohio voters equal in number to ten percent of the vote cast statewide in the last election for Governor. Based on the 2022 gubernatorial election, that currently means that it takes 413,488 signatures from registered Ohio voters to put an amendment on the ballot.
  2. The petitions must also contain signatures from registered voters in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties equal in number to five percent of the vote in that county in the last gubernatorial election.

In Clermont County, that currently means signatures from 4,022 registered Clermont County voters.

There are also a myriad of rules about the form of the petitions, how voters sign the petitions, and how signatures are collected. Those rules are too numerous and too complicated to discuss here, but the net effect is usually that somewhere between 25% and 50% of signatures on petitions submitted to the Secretary of State are not counted. If a citizen-proposed amendment clears all these hurdles, it goes on the statewide ballot and is adopted if more than 50% of Ohio voters vote for it.

HJR 1 and SJR 2 aim to change those rules for CITIZEN-INITIATED amendments only

Most of you have probably heard about the headline change: citizen-initiated amendments will only pass and become part of the Ohio Constitution if at least 60% of Ohio voters vote for the amendment. Sixty percent is a landslide in an election.  When Frank LaRose ran for re-election as Secretary of State last year against a little-known opponent, Frank did not get 60% of the vote. Secretary LaRose is a vocal proponent of HJR 1 and SJR 2. The 60% requirement is not, however, the most significant change that will be wrought by HJR 1 and SJR 2.

Republicans also want to make it much more difficult for citizens to put proposed amendments before the voters

For an amendment to reach the ballot, HJR 1 and SJR 2 would require petition signatures by registered voters in all 88 counties equal in number to five percent of the registered voters in that county. This change gives any county in the state the ability to keep an amendment off the ballot. It also increases the number of signatures required in each county by applying the percentage not to the number of people in that county who vote, but, instead, by applying the percentage to the number of registered voters in the county.

Looking at our own county shows how significant the change in the petition signature requirement would be. In 2022, Clermont County had 145,532 registered voters. Only 80,436 of those voters cast a vote in the election for Governor.  Thus, under current law, getting an amendment on the ballot calls for 4,022 signatures of registered Clermont County voters.  Under HJR 1 and SJR 2, getting an amendment on the ballot would require signatures of 7,277 registered Clermont County voters.  Thus, HJR 1 and SJR 2 would increase the signature requirement in Clermont County by 81%.

There is another twist to Republicans’ efforts to put the Ohio Constitution off limits from Ohioans

Since HJR 1 and SJR 2 themselves propose an amendment to the Ohio Constitution, Ohioans must vote on it. Because this amendment is being put forth under current law, it passes if it gets over 50% of the vote, even if it clears that threshold by only one vote.  However, Republicans do not want Ohioans to vote on this in the November general election when we vote on other candidates and issues.  Rather, under Senate Bill 92, there will be a special election on the HJR 1/SJR 2 amendment on August 2, 2023.

Very few people vote in August elections

In legislation passed and signed by the Governor only a few months ago, the Republican General Assembly did away with August special elections.  Now, they are bringing them back but only for their pet issue: HJR 1/SJR 2.  Why?  The answer is simple: very few people vote in August elections. We have not had many statewide elections in August. However, we did last year. Statewide, only eight percent of registered Ohio voters voted in the Congressional and General Assembly primaries last August. The turnout was even lower in Clermont County at just under seven percent. In contrast, over 52% of registered Ohio voters voted in the November 2022 general election.  In Clermont County, turnout was almost 57%. Republicans want to sneak HJR1/SJR 2 through in a low turnout August special election so it can be adopted by an affirmative vote of just over 50% by less than ten percent of Ohio’s voters. Senate Bill 92 also appropriates $ 20 million of our tax dollars to pay for this special election.

Why are Republicans in a rush to put the Ohio Constitution out of reach of Ohio citizens?

The most common answer is that they expect the citizen-initiated Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment, for which petitions are currently being circulated, to appear on the November ballot and want the 60% requirement to apply to it. I think there is also another reason. Republicans know that they got away with one last year by holding elections using Congressional and General Assembly districts which the Ohio Supreme Court had declared were illegal. Republicans in the General Assembly are very scared that more amendments to the Ohio Constitution will be proposed to take the district-drawing away from them. They know a majority of Ohioans favor fair legislative districts.  They want HJR 1 and SJR 2 put into the state constitution because they are confident they can find one county in the state where they can prevent enough people from signing petitions for fair districts to keep that off the ballot.

SJR 2 and Senate Bill 92 have already passed the Ohio Senate.  HJR 1 has already been approved by a committee of the Ohio House on a party-line vote.  It and Senate Bill 92 are likely to be voted on by the full House this week.  Secretary of State LaRose has publicly threatened “consequences” for House members who do not vote in favor of both.  Time is short.

Reach out to the two State Representatives from Clermont County and urge them to vote against HJR 1 and Senate Bill 92

Jean Schmitt represents the northwest corner of the County.  Her office number is (614) 466-8134.

Adam Bird represents the rest of Clermont County.  His office number is (614) 644-6034.  Bird is a co-sponsor of HJR 1.

You might have more impact calling the Speaker of the Ohio House, Jason Stephens.  His office number is (614) 466-1366.

Also, be prepared to fight hard to defeat this effort to put the Ohio Constitution out of reach of Ohio citizens when it comes to a statewide vote this August.

Stay safe.