Something evil is coming our way, and Republicans are hoping we won’t notice. The issue I’m going to talk about will not hit the ballot for several months but it is so pernicious that opposition needs to start now.

We saw in 2022 the anti-gerrymandering amendments, which Ohio voters added to the Ohio Constitution a few years ago, are toothless. The Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly held that the General Assembly and Congressional districts drawn by Republicans to favor Republicans violated these provisions of the Ohio Constitution. Yet we were still forced to vote for Ohio House, Ohio Senate members and Ohio’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives this year using these unconstitutional districts. People are already talking about new amendments to the Ohio Constitution that may actually produce fair state and federal districts.

Republicans want to make sure that does not happen.

Taking Our Constitution Away from the Citizens

A major step in Republicans’ efforts to avoid fair districts has already been announced. Pushed by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) will be introducing in the General Assembly the misleadingly named “Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment.”

If passed, this amendment will impose additional hurdles for future constitutional amendments initiated by Ohio citizens. But it will not change the rules for amendments to the Ohio Constitution initiated by the Ohio General Assembly.

In addition to the current requirements for getting a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot, the Republicans want to add a new rule that a citizen-initiated amendment would not become part of the Ohio Constitution unless at least 60% of the voters in a statewide election vote for the amendment. Currently any amendment to the Ohio Constitution passes if it receives 50% plus one votes of the voters in a statewide election.

Currently It Is Not Easy For Citizens To Amend The Ohio Constitution

Secretary LaRose justifies this proposed change by claiming that “because of the ease of amending Ohio’s founding document, the Ohio Constitution has become a tool used by special interests.”

Let’s look at just how “easy” it currently is for Ohio citizens to amend their constitution.

  1. Citizens wishing to propose an amendment to the Ohio Constitution must draft both the amendment and a summary of the amendment.
  2. That work must be submitted to the Ohio Attorney General along with a petition signed by at least 1,000 Ohio voters.
  3. If the Ohio Attorney General decides that the submitted summary is a “fair and truthful statement” of the proposed amendment (Ohio Revised Code Section 3519.01(A)), the Attorney General forwards the proposed amendment to the Ohio Ballot Board.
  4. The Ballot Board must decide whether the proposed amendment is really only one amendment or multiple amendments.
  5. If the Ballot Board is satisfied that there is only one amendment proposed, it certifies the proposed amendment back to the Attorney General who then files it with the Secretary of State.  If either the Attorney General or the Ballot Board reject the proposal, citizens must start over.
  6. If a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution makes it past the Attorney General and the Ballot Board, citizens may begin collecting petition signatures to have the proposed amendment placed on the ballot.  Those petitions must be in a prescribed form (Ohio Revised Code Section 3519.05(A)) and must be signed in a certain way (Ohio Revised Code Sections 3501.38 and 3519.10).
  7. Getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot requires valid petition signatures in a number equal to at least ten percent of the number of people who voted in the last election for Governor.  Based on the unofficial results of this month’s election, that number is over 400,000 signatures.
  8. The petitions must include signatures from voters in at least 44 Ohio counties and the number of those signatures must equal at least five percent of the number of people in each of those counties who voted in the last election for Governor.

So a constitutional amendment proposed by Ohio citizens can go on the ballot for a vote of the people only if all these requirements are met. If the proposal does make it onto the ballot, the proposal must still get a majority “yes” vote by Ohio voters.  Does this process sounds easy to you?

It’s Easy To Amend For The Gerrymandered Ohio General Assembly

In contrast, a constitutional amendment proposed by the Ohio General Assembly does not require any petitions to get on the ballot. The amendment goes on the ballot if three-fifths of the members of both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate vote in favor. That means 60 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate. Republicans have more than that number of legislators and will have in the new General Assembly starting in January.

In other words, only 80 General Assembly members can put a constitutional amendment on the ballot while it takes over 400,000 Ohio voters, including a minimum number in at least 44 counties, for citizens to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

In order to toughen up the current “easy” process for citizens to get proposed amendments to the Ohio Constitution on the ballot, Republicans now want a rule saying that, if a proposal makes it onto the ballot, it will also need at least a 60% “yes” vote to pass.

However, a proposed amendment which 80 state legislators support goes into the Constitution if the “yes” vote at the election is 50% plus one vote.  In other words, a citizen-initiated amendment will need a landslide victory to pass while an amendment favored by the Republican super majority in the General Assembly can just squeak by.

An Expensive Unnecessary May 2023 Primary Election

Because this Republican effort to effectively eliminate citizen-initiated constitutional amendments would itself be an amendment to the Ohio Constitution, it will have to go on the ballot statewide.

Republicans are proposing to do that at the May 2023 primary election.

Did you know there is going to be a May 2023 primary election? But for this Republican proposal, most of Ohio would not be having an election in May 2023. Republicans want the counties to incur the cost to deploy voting equipment and poll workers for every precinct in the state just to have a vote on their amendment.

Statewide, having a primary election solely for this amendment will cost millions of dollars.

An End To Government By The People

Putting the proposed amendment on the May 2023 is carefully calculated to maximize the likelihood that the amendment will pass even without support from a majority of Ohioans. Turnout at primary elections is always lower than at general elections. Turnout in odd numbered year elections is lower still.  With nothing else on the ballot in most of Ohio, Republicans assume that very few people will vote next May. Sadly, that assumption is almost certainly correct.

Even a minimal GOTV effort by the Republicans may well be enough to effectively end citizen-initiated amendments to the Ohio Constitution.

The obvious purpose behind this Republican effort is to prevent Ohio citizens from taking effective action to end the Republicans’ gerrymandered super majority.  However, that will not be the only impact.

Proposed amendments to give women a state constitutional right to control their own bodies, to allow local control over fracking, for common sense gun control and other policies supported by a majority of Ohioans but not by the Republicans in Columbus will also be practically impossible.

The “Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment” is really an effort to further imbed Republican control and far right ideology in Ohio government. It will go to the voters in the lowest turnout election possible, at a huge additional cost to taxpayers. Democrats, and everyone else who cares about democracy in Ohio, must turn out next May and defeat this partisan effort. This is a grave threat which we must focus on now.