What does changing Ohioans' ability to amend the state's constitution really mean? Here's what we found out
The GOP in Ohio is attempting to change Ohioan's ability to amend the state’s constitution, seeking to modify the process from a simple majority of 50 percent vote to change the constitution to a proposed supermajority requirement or 60 percent for rule passage - a 10 percent increase. And they are hoping to have voters decide this at a special August election.
Why is the GOP looking to make this change now? And why during a historically poor-attended August election? Around Ohio, pro-choice groups are gathering signatures hoping to place an amendment in the fall election to let the voters of Ohio have a say in their reproductive rights.
For example, in 2009, Ohio Constitution was amended to allow gaming and casino gambling within the state, which passed by only 52 percent of the vote. In politically divided times, achieving a supermajority for future changes could be challenging.
However, a constitutional amendment in 2018 was approved by 66.47 percent of voters for a public process for drawing congressional lines for districts, and in 2015 when voters approved the creation of a bipartisan public process for drawing legislative lines, which passed by 60.07 percent, which still has litigation ongoing.
Only a handful of states have a supermajority requirement for constitutional changes, including Colorado, which has required a 55 percent vote since 2016; Illinois and Florida require constitutional amendments require 60 percent for change; and New Hampshire requires a 2/3rds vote.
The controversial proposal has been attempted by Ohio Republicans before and not passed, but holding a special election in August is banking on the fact that these elections historically have the lowest turnout.
In late 2021, Republicans introduced legislation to eliminate August Special Elections, which traditionally have low voter turnout, as a means of saving taxpayer money.
But now the Ohio House, following the approval by the Ohio Senate, is nearing a vote about holding a special election on August 8, and Governor Mike DeWine has already indicated he will sign a bill to hold a special election to raise the state’s constitution vote from majority to a supermajority.
Ohio Senators Rob McColley and Theresa Gavarone introduced both bills earlier this year, one for the 60 percent vote for changes to constitutional amendments which is awaiting a House vote and introduced the bill to allow August elections for certain purposes, which is currently awaiting a House vote.
The anticipated cost for a special election would cost Ohio taxpayers in the neighborhood of $20 million.
Last year, the August 2022 redistricting special election cost Ohioans approximately $25 million, and only 8 percent of all registered voters turned out across the state. Locally, Mahoning County had 9.1 percent turnout, Trumbull County had 11.6 percent turnout, and Columbiana County 10.3 percent.
With Pro-choice groups are attempting to collect more than 422,000 signatures of registered voters by July 5 in order get an amendment for reproductive rights on the November 7 general election, any change of the Ohio Constitution that would require a supermajority would block the measure.
However, not all GOP members are on board with the idea. Some former Republican Governors have spoken out against the potential changes.
Bob Taft, governor from 1999 to 2007, recently urged state lawmakers against forwarding the bills, telling the Associated Press looking to make changes requiring a supermajority or trying to hold August elections are “especially bad policy.” Former Governor John Kasich has also spoken out against the change.
Taft told 21 News Madison Tromler it would be a big mistake to modify the voter threshold when it's a challenge for citizens to get any kind of issue on the ballot.
"It's like they're trying to rush this through, almost in the dark of night to make it more difficult for a single issue to pass," Taft said. "It doesn't make any sense to have a very high cost, very low turnout election, particularly to have decide such a consequential issue," Taft added.
Kasich issued a statement: Ohio is stronger when we can all lend our voices and we all have an equal chance to participate in the work of our state's democracy. I've experienced that firsthand having policies backed by myself and a majority of the legislature's members overturned at the ballot box ...and it never occurred to me to try to limit Ohioans' right to do that. It wouldn't have been right then, and it isn't right now.
AP also reported that two former GOP attorney generals - Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro - wrote a letter to each state senator and representative asking them to oppose the plan.
Media Director Rob Nichols provided a statement from Secretary of State Frank LaRose that read, "The legislature has sole discretion over determining the time, place and manner of elections. Should the General Assembly decide to hold an August election, we are fully confident that Ohio's professional, dedicated county boards of election and committed poll workers would administer another free and fair election that Ohioans have come to expect."
Trumbull County Board of Elections Director Stephanie Penrose told 21 News said that August elections are a major challenge for local board of elections, especially during a period when her office will already be counting petition signatures verification for the pro-choice ballot issue. Penrose is worried about staff burn out said that the special election is contradictory, as the GOP last year halted the measure for special elections.
State Representative Brian Stewart, the House resolution’s Republican sponsor, and GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose attempted the 60 percent proposal in 2022.
Anyone who wishes to voice an opinion for or against the changes should call their Senator and Representatives's office.
The decision on whether or not to place the special election ballot must be decided on May 10 to meet the deadline.