Ohio's elections officials oppose August special election for 60% voter approval amendment
Ohio’s bipartisan group of elections officials has voted to formally oppose a bill to allow an August special election to vote on a constitutional amendment that will make it harder to amend the constitution in the future.
That August vote would come three months before an reproductive rights amendment is expected to be on the ballot.
Boards of elections statewide would need to find hundreds of poll workers and polling locations for an unexpected August 8 special election, said Frankie DiCarlantonio, a trustee of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials and a board of elections member in Jefferson County.
And he noted boards need to prepare for local candidates to file petitions for the November vote on August 9, the next day. That's the day local levies, issues and liquor options are also due to be filed or certified with local boards.
DiCarlantonio said since the plan to require 60% voter approval to amend the constitution could be put onto the November ballot, the OAEO sees the $20 million in the bill to pay for the August election as an unneeded expense.
"This $20 million is definitely a burden to taxpayers. The taxpayers of Ohio just paid for a second primary election in 2022 that was state-funded as well," DiCarlantonio said, referring to the legislative primary last August after the Ohio Supreme Court repeatedly ruled maps drawn by the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. "Obviously, we're not trying to step on the toes of the legislature and their power to appropriate state funds however they want, but at the end of the day, we want to make this known that this may not be a good use of taxpayer dollars."
That August 2022 special election had a turnout of 7.9%. But Republicans who back the idea say they believe the attention on this 60% approval threshold amendment will guarantee a bigger turnout.
Senate Bill 92 would allow an August special election under certain circumstances, including to vote on constitutional amendments proposed by state lawmakers, and would set aside $20 million for it. A similar House bill doesn't have the appropriation. Republicans have proposed resolutions in the House and Senate to require 60% voter approval to amend the constitution.
Senate Bill 92 is scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday. The Senate resolution, SJR 2, hasn't been scheduled for a hearing, but that's expected soon.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who supports the 60% voter threshold idea, said in a letter to legislative leaders that they should decide on an August vote by May 10, to give local boards time to prepare for that unplanned election.
Most special elections were eliminated in a Republican-backed bill that passed late last year and took effect on April 7. That bill, which was supported by all legislative Republicans but one, also requires voters to show photo ID and limited counties to one secure ballot drop box.
DiCarlantonio said making sure all those changes are implemented is one of the many factors involved in the elections officials' opposition.
“Over the last several years, elections officials have been through so, so much. And in terms of the timelines of an August special election and so much more, it just makes for a very hectic schedule and a very difficult operation," DiCarlantonio said.
A month ago, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) had said he was "frankly not interested" in the idea of an August special election, saying “We just voted to not have those anymore just a few months ago, and the county election officials I've talked to are not interested in having it." A week later, a petition had been filed to force a floor vote on the 60% voter approval resolution, though it was far short of the signatures needed for a vote. But Stephens appeared to backtrack then, saying, "the legislature does set the date and time and place of the elections. So, you know, that is always a possibility."
Supporters of the proposed amendment to guarantee reproductive rights and abortion access are in the process of gathering nearly 414,000 signatures, with a July 5 filing deadline.