Ohio House approves controversial voting measure that could be a statewide ballot issue
The Ohio House has given the green light to a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed by the Ohio Senate, would allow the state's voters to cast ballots this November to determine whether to prohibit non-U.S. citizens from voting in all elections held in Ohio.
It is already illegal for non-citizens to vote in state and federal elections but it is not as clear cut for local areas.
The Ohio Constitution provides home rule authority to municipalities and chartered counties. In 2020, the Ohio village of Yellow Springs adopted an ordinance allowing non-citizens to vote. At that point, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, ruled non-citizens in that community could neither register to vote nor vote.
Backers of this proposed amendment say the concern is that a future secretary of state might view the issue differently. This proposed constitutional amendment is meant to take local control away from that situation.
House Majority Leader Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) is one of the bill's sponsors. He said this bill is needed to make sure only citizens can cast ballots.
“With our vote today, we are giving Ohio’s voters a very clear choice,” Seitz said. “They can either decide that Ohio should imitate New York and San Francisco by allowing non-citizens to vote, or that Ohio reserves its voting rights only to qualified citizens. I am confident in their judgement,” Seitz said.
Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), co-sponsor of the bill, said Ohio voters need to make this change to the constitution.
“This is about integrity of our elections and point blank, citizenship should matter,” Edwards said.
Democrats say this proposal is politically motivated
Democrats, like Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown), say this is an effort by majority Republicans to put a hot-button issue on the ballot in November to turn out their voters by stoking unfounded fear that there is something wrong with Ohio's elections.
“It’s an effort to promote a narrative that our elections are faulty. It’s also an effort to tap into fear and it’s a political game," Lepore-Hagan said.
Democrats said attempts to put issues they support on the ballot have faced opposition from majority Republicans who control the Ohio Legislature.
Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst) said it would have been nice for Republicans, who made it easier to get this proposed amendment on the ballot by passing it in the legislature first, could have done the same for some issues Democrats would like to put up for a statewide vote.
"I mean it's a great ‘get out the vote’ strategy and I was hoping you could give us something like a ‘get out the vote’ for our side, like some good common-sense gun reform or maybe some real ‘don't tread on me and my bodily rights’ would have been nice but we understand where we are at here,” said Miller.
Democrats have said they want to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to let Ohioans decide whether to allow abortion and reproductive rights, something they doubt this legislature would approve.
Earlier this year, a citizens group gathered signatures for an attempt to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana in November. Republican leaders fought that effort. But in an agreement, backers of that proposal said they were told they could use the signatures they gathered for an effort next year.
The proposed constitutional amendment regarding voting for non-citizens now goes to the Ohio Senate for consideration.