The Ohio General Assembly has put on the ballot for August as Issue 1 a referendum that, if passed, would weaken the people’s power to control their government.
Opponents of the proposal have filed a suit in the Ohio Supreme Court trying to block the planned August election as illegal.
However, it is unlikely that the Republicans in the General Assembly are going to be deterred from their goal to have an election in August, so Ohioans should begin planning to defeat this unwise constitutional amendment by turning out in large numbers to vote.
We say, bring it on.
Who’s in charge in Ohio? The Republican super-majority in the General Assembly, supported by Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, want to dramatically reduce the power of citizens by requiring 60 percent of the vote to amend the constitution. For the past 111 years Ohio citizens have been empowered to amend the Constitution through ballot issues with a 50 percent-plus-one requirement. It’s the embodiment of Ohio’s constitutional language asserting all political power is inherent in the people.
That longstanding governing premise is to be tested in an Aug. 8 election, picked in the cynical assumption that Ohioans will be too preoccupied with summer vacations to participate in the most important election of this century. The GOP only a year ago abolished the August election as a waste of money because of historical low turnout.
Now it hopes low turnout will be the key to enacting a constitutional amendment so as to head off passage of an abortion rights amendment through a ballot issue in November. The belief is that a pro-abortion rights amendment might get a simple majority but not 60 percent. That same thinking has been joined by other special interests who fear populist ballot amendments.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, The Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association, and the Ohio Restaurant Association all fear a minimum-wage ballot amendment. The Buckeye Firearms Association fears that fed-up citizens may impose restrictions on assault weapons. Republican lawmakers fear Ohio voters will try to impose a citizen-controlled redistricting process through a ballot issue.
The immediate fight is over abortion policy, and some will equate a “no” vote in the August election as being pro-abortion rights. The real issue being decided is whose voice ultimately steers Ohio’s ship of state, the people or the politicians.
Statehouse Republicans claim to be motivated by the need to protect the process from “special interests.”
That is a shameless deception from politicians who too often become puppets for the special interests who fund their campaigns.
In some contexts, a supermajority is appropriate and has served this nation well, as for example when the legislature overrides a governor’s veto or Congress confirms a justice to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution has a famously high bar for a new amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, followed by ratification of three-fourths of the states.
But as President Theodore Roosevelt — a Republican — pointed out in his 1912 speech to the Ohio Constitutional Convention which established the right of citizen-initiated amendments, checks and balances only apply to the different branches of government to whom the people have delegated certain portions of their power.
“The power is the people’s and only the people’s.”
Mr. Roosevelt’s words in support of establishing citizen-initiated law were prescient: “I protest against any theory that would make the constitution a means of thwarting instead of securing the absolute right of the people to rule themselves.”
Since citizens took the right to amend the state constitution they have enacted law when the General Assembly failed to act and repealed law when the legislature overstepped public opinion.
There is already a complicated process in place in Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of signatures representing at least 44 counties have to be collected and verified. The language of the proposed amendment goes through careful legal review by the attorney general and the state ballot board.
These processes frustrate many proposed ballot amendment drives. And even when they make it to the ballot, passage is far from guaranteed. Since 1912 there have been just 71 ballot issues and only 19 passed.
Now lawmakers want to raise the bar to require a minimum number of signatures in all 88 counties, as if Ohio voters were abusing the electoral process.
There may be a case to be made for setting the bar for an Ohio constitutional amendment higher than it is now, but it should be after a bipartisan conversation and then addressed in an election with a guaranteed high turnout.
The cynical motives that have brought this election into existence render it advisable for defeat.
The only way to do that is for citizens to stand up for their rights to determine their own future and use the many opportunities to vote in the coming election.
Early voting lasts 28 days, and voting by mail is an option available to every registered voter in Ohio.
The Aug. 8 election is an opportunity to send a resounding message the Capitol needs to hear:
You work for us!