DeWine says he’ll sign August elections bill, after signing earlier law eliminating most of them
Gov. Mike Dewine said if lawmakers bring him a bill to allow an August special election for a vote to make it harder to amend the constitution, he’ll sign it. That election would come three months before an expected amendment guaranteeing reproductive rights and abortion access.
In January, DeWine signed a law passed by the previous General Assembly that eliminates most August elections. Republicans who backed it noted a special election last August cost $20 million and only 7.9% of registered voters cast ballots in it. But that was then.
Earlier today, DeWine said he'll go along with his fellow Republican lawmakers if they decide to pass a bill to create a special statewide election this August.
"If both houses approve this and that's the way, the direction they want to go, I'm going to sign it. I think there is some advantage to have these matters over with," DeWine said.
A resolution backed by Republicans planned for that ballot would raise the threshold for passing constitutional amendments to 60%. Right now, voters can pass a constitutional amendment with a vote of 50% plus one.
The matter, as DeWine calls it, needs to be decided in August, ahead of the November election, so it would be in place for a planned amendment that could enshrine abortion rights in the constitution. Backers of that proposal are circulating petitions to get the 414,000 valid signatures needed by July 5. Some Republican leaders have admitted the idea is to get ahead of the abortion amendment because most polling shows it would pass by more than 50% but would be harder to make it past that 60% threshold.
There's another part of this proposed constitutional amendment proposed by Republicans that would require petition signatures from all 88 counties, not just 44 counties as currently required. But that wouldn't apply to the reproductive rights amendment, with the signature gathering already underway.
At least one Republican doesn't like the idea of the proposed constitutional change or the August election to try to pass it.
Former Gov. Bob Taft wrote a letter to legislative leaders saying he believes that it is "especially bad public policy to revive the August special election for the purpose of voting on such a consequential constitutional amendment”. Taft said the amendment would fundamentally change the constitutional process and he added a decision that important should not be made in a special August election when there would be lower turnout. Taft also pointed out that if the 60% threshold had been in place during his time as governor, two of his economic initiatives, the Clean Ohio Fund and the Third Frontier Project, would not have been approved. The Clean Ohio Fund, with the bipartisan help of former U.S. Senator John Glenn as campaign co-chair, was approved in 2000 by only 57% of the vote. And the Third Frontier bond issue failed in 2003 with a little more than 49% of the vote. It was approved by voters three years later, but only by 54%.
If the proposed 60% threshold amendment makes it on an August ballot, Taft will not be the only one opposing it. Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio said there are many people who will fight it.
"We have a growing coalition of 227 organizations representing millions of voters who want to protect one person, one vote, and majority rule. If the governor signs this bill, he is going to own it, because we will be sure to beat this undemocratic and unpopular move at the ballot box," Miller said.
The Senate has already passed its version of the 60% voter threshold proposal and the bill to create the August election. The House is considering both measures and a vote could happen as early as Thursday. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who supports the 60% threshold idea, has said both must pass by May 10 for this resolution to be on an August special election ballot.