Elyria Chronicle-Telegram: Ballot board keeps voters in the dark

Obfuscation is the order of the day when it comes to a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would make all subsequent amendments harder to pass.

At least that’s how it appeared after the Republican majority on the Ohio Ballot Board voted last week to approve the explanation voters will read when they head to the polls for an expensive and unnecessary special election Aug. 8. (The board’s two Democrats voted no.)

Voters will be told that approval of Issue 1, as the ballot measure will be known, would require future amendments to receive at least 60 percent of the vote to be added to the Constitution.

What the explanation doesn’t say is that the threshold now, and for Issue 1, is 50% plus one vote.

Voters also will be told that petitions supporting constitutional amendments would need to have been signed by “at least five percent of the eligible voters of each county in the state” if filed after Jan. 1, 2024.

What voters won’t be told is that the Constitution now requires petition signatures from only half of Ohio’s 88 counties.

The word “eligible” also rightly struck Democrats as misleading because it implies that the threshold is 5% of all registered voters. In reality, the standard is 5% of voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election. (A total of 10% of voters from the last gubernatorial election is necessary statewide to get a proposed amendment on the ballot.)

Voters further will be told that after Jan. 1, 2024, additional signatures “may not be added to an initiative petition.”

What voters won’t be told is that right now there’s a so-called “cure period” in which proponents have 10 days to gather additional signatures if their initial effort fails short.

Also troubling is the name the Ballot Board assigned to Issue 1, which is formally called “Elevating The Standards To Qualify For And To Pass Any Constitutional Amendment.”

“Elevating” the Ohio Constitution sure sounds better than what the amendment is actually designed to do, which is to prevent a majority of voters from adding amendments that Republicans don’t like. The whole point of rushing their amendment to the ballot in August has been to try to make it harder to pass an abortion-rights amendment that is expected to appear on the November ballot.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who serves on the Ballot Board, defended the lack of critical details informing voters what they were being asked to give up. Voters, he said, would be able to read up on the proposed amendment before heading to the polls.

Sure, some will do so, but not all. Some voters will head into the voting booth, read about “elevating” the Constitution and vote for it. Which is probably the point.

LaRose also defended the word “elevating” when questioned by reporters after the Ballot Board meeting in which Democrats objected to the explanation and the name of the proposed amendment.

“Elevating means to raise or increase,” LaRose said, according to The Plain Dealer. “That’s the first definition in the Webster’s Dictionary.”

Um, sort of.

Here’s the first definition of elevate on Merriam-Webster.com: “to lift up or make higher: Raise.” The other definitions are: “to raise in rank or status,” “to improve morally, intellectually, or culturally” and “to raise the spirits of: Elate.”

All of those definitions carry positive connotations, not the neutral one that LaRose said the Ballot Board was aiming for.

We’d like to say the Republican effort to obscure what the proposed amendment would do came as a surprise. It didn’t because disingenuousness has marred the GOP’s handling of the whole process.

At first, Republicans claimed they were trying to protect the Ohio Constitution from outside “special interests,” although some finally admitted they were really trying to prevent amendments on issues such as abortion and redistricting reform.

Republicans have not, however, complained about a conservative Illinois billionaire pumping cash into a political action committee that favors making the Ohio Constitution harder to amend.

Then there’s the August special election. Republicans voted largely to do away with such elections just a few months ago, arguing that they were too expensive for the low turnout they generated.

Once Republicans realized the idea of abortion rights enjoyed majority support, their devotion to cost savings — the August election is expected to cost $20 million — and letting voters decide important issues in regular elections evaporated.

Voters deserve honesty and transparency, but they sure aren’t getting them when it comes to Issue 1.