Ohio Ballot Board approves language for two statewide issues while opponents decide next moves
It took the Ohio Ballot Board more than two hours to approve language for two statewide issues that voters could see when they vote this fall. One issue could change the process for granting bail. The other is meant to make it so only U.S. citizens could vote in Ohio.
But opponents of each of those measures are taking issue with the language that was approved by majority Republicans on the Ohio Ballot Board. And the matters could end up before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Proposed State Issue 1 would allow Ohio courts to consider public safety and other factors when setting the amount of bail. The ballot issue would reverse a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year that said judges could not consider public safety when determining a bail amount.
The ballot issue would also make it so the Ohio Supreme Court no longer has the authority to establish the rules for granting bail.
John Martin, assistant public defender for Cuyahoga County, proposed various changes to the language. He suggested changing "conditions" into "amount" or replacing the word "rules" with "procedures." He said these small changes make a big difference.
"You know it was Mark Twain that always said the difference between lightning and a lightning bug is only one word and in this particular case, these words that we were worried about, do make a difference," Martin said.
The ballot board adopted some of the wording Martin wanted. But Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus), who is running to be a Franklin County judge in November, said the proposed amendment should be two separate issues because it does two different things. Leland said he and others who oppose the amendment are considering taking the issue to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The other issue for which language was approved would "require that only a citizen of the United States, who is at least 18 years of age and who has been a legal resident and registered voter for at least 30 days, can vote at any state or local election held in this state." The language is based on what is already in the state constitution. But Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) said the issue, as it is written, changes the word "every" to "only." And that, he said, makes a big difference.
"Seventeen-year-olds who currently are allowed to vote in primaries today would not be able to vote. In addition, there's language here that could be read easily if you look at the clear meaning of the language that it restricts voting and being an elector only to 18-year-olds so somebody 59 would not be allowed to vote," Skindell said.
Skindell, who is 59 years old, interpreted the proposed language to say only 18-year-old citizens could vote and serve elected office.
"It will throw elections into chaos in the state of Ohio," Skindell said.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said he doesn't share Skindell's interpretation of that proposal.
"The language here is pretty straight forward. In many cases, it is directly out of the constitution. Remember the question when it comes to ballot language or explanation is, does it materially mislead voters or whatever else? The language is right out of the constitution. It's very straight forward. You could dance on the head of a pin for hours about swap this word for that. You can get out the thesaurus and come up with words that have sort of a different connotation or whatever else but what we have included in there is very straight forward, very factual and an honest assessment of what these two constitutional amendments would do, so again, the voters could make their decision this November," LaRose said.
But now it's up to the Democrats and others who oppose the language, adopted along party lines by the Ohio Ballot Board, to decide whether to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to consider it. And the opponents only have nine days to make that decision.