COLUMBUS – Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Thursday he thinks the state legislature should consider raising the bar for future state constitutional amendments ahead of potential future ballot measures ensuring legal protections for abortion and other high-profile issue campaigns.
The topic came up as LaRose and his Democratic challenger in the Nov. 8 election, Chelsea Clark, sat with reporters and editors from cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer for an endorsement interview.
The two also fielded questions over redistricting, a proposal to bar non-citizens from voting in local elections and a new voter-integrity unit that LaRose recently launched, among other topics.
But when asked whether lawmakers should further raise the bar for state-proposed constitutional amendments by requiring additional voter signatures, the first step of making the ballot, LaRose said Ohio also should consider raising the number of votes required to pass such an amendment. LaRose said a proposed constitutional amendment should require a supermajority, or 66%, instead of the simple majority needed now.
“We have casinos and medical marijuana and all manner of things that now have found their way into the Ohio Constitution,” LaRose said. “And so I think the signature threshold may be one thing to look at, but another one might be, it takes a supermajority vote in the legislature to refer a question to the ballot, why not require a supermajority vote of the citizens in order to pass a constitutional amendment?”
Clark, a council member in Forest Park, a Cincinnati suburb, said she also thinks that special interests have gotten too much sway in pursuing state ballot measures.
“I think they [special interests] should not be in the lead on these things and by in large, the people, the entire electorate should have more of a say on those things, and be able to vote in a majority fashion as well,” Clark said.
The Secretary of State’s Office has no direct role in changing the rules for state constitutional amendments. Doing so would require a constitutional amendment itself, which could be initiated by state legislators or by an outside citizens group before being sent to voters for approval.
Any such move could have major ramifications for the fight over abortion rights that has followed the June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, ending nationwide legal protections for abortion and sending the issue to the states.
Other potential constitutional amendments that could be coming down the pike include a measure legalizing recreational marijuana and a proposal to overhaul the Ohio Redistricting Commission, a panel of elected officials, including the secretary of state, tasked with redrawing the state’s political district lines, with a citizen’s redistricting commission.
During Thursday’s endorsement interview, LaRose defended the process through which he and Republicans approved several sets of state legislative and congressional maps that were found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court, citing the new anti-gerrymandering rules voters added to the state constitution in 2015 and 2018.
LaRose said Republicans during the process said “they were in the majority for a reason,” while he said Democrats, including state Rep. Emilia Sykes, told him they expected to eventually prevail in court.
“I felt like one of the only ones trying to bring the two sides together, and that proved impossible,” LaRose said.
Clark said LaRose still approved “asinine” maps — a reference to a private text message that surfaced during redistricting-related litigation that LaRose sent during last year’s redistricting process.
“I grew up country, so where I’m from, we call that we call that not doing what you say you’re gonna do,” Clark said.
Clark also criticized LaRose for accepting an endorsement earlier this year from ex-President Donald Trump, who has falsely said the 2020 election was stolen from him as a result of massive voter fraud, a claim that has been rejected by Trump’s own Homeland Security and Justice departments, some top former campaign officials and family members, and dozens of courts.
Clark praised Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, who balked at Trump’s pressure to declare that Trump had won the state in 2020, when he had narrowly lost it.
“All I’m doing is interpreting what we have here, and the question Ohioans have to ask themselves is, can we depend on our chief elections officer to do the same thing, when he is colluding with and supported and embraced by our number one threat to democracy and election denier?” Clark said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have leadership like that.”
Pressed on whether he believes Biden won the 2020 election, LaRose said he believes Biden was duly elected president. But, he said he has issues with changes that were made to voting procedures during the 2020 pandemic, like in Nevada sending absentee ballots to all registered voters.
“I don’t believe it was stolen,” LaRose said. “Again, these are important words that have meaning because stolen implies some sort of criminal conspiracy to steal it. But I do believe that bad things happen that should not have happened. They happened as a result of crisis opportunism and people abandoning over a century of best practices and how elections are run.”