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Ohio Republicans OK 60% amendment approval ballot text; Democrats say it's 'sneaky'

 The Ballot Board meets at the Ohio Statehouse on May 18, 2023.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
The Ballot Board meets at the Ohio Statehouse on May 18, 2023.

The Ohio Ballot Board has approved the language voters could see when they vote on a Republican-backed proposal to make it harder to amend the constitution. That is, if the Ohio Supreme Court allows the August election to consider that measure to move forward.

Opponents called the approved ballot language inaccurate, illegal, undemocratic, sneaky and unfair.

The three Republicans on the five-member board voted to adopt the summary language of Issue 1, the amendment to require a 60% vote threshold instead of the current 50% plus one.

 Ballot language summary for proposed constitutional amendment to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution in the future
Jo Ingles
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Ballot language summary for proposed constitutional amendment to make it harder to amend the Ohio Constitution in the future

Democrats lambasted the summary language

State Rep. Elliot Forhan (D-South Euclid) called the summary ballot language of the proposed amendment "undemocratic, unpopular and unfair." And state Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) said the Republican-dominated legislature, which the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly said is gerrymandered, is playing politics with the state constitution.

"It's sneaky, it's illegal and all they are doing is trying to ram their policies and ram this thing through an election that's both unconstitutional and in August when most people don't vote," DeMora said.

The attorney representing One Person, One Vote, the coalition opposing the constitutional amendment, took issue with many parts of the resolution, starting with the title: "Elevating the standards to qualify for and to pass any constitutional amendment." Don McTigue said the word "elevating" conveys a positive connotation that could influence voters, especially because the language doesn't tell the voter the current standard for approving an amendment is a simple majority.

"It's important that they be informed of what the actual change is," said McTigue. "This language that is in the ballot language not only fails to inform them of the change, but is actually inaccurate."

McTigue said the summary language explaining that petitions "must be signed by at least 5% of eligible voters of each county in the state," is wrong, too. He noted the actual amendment requires signatures from 5% of only those voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election from all 88 counties. And he said the language should have explained that currently petition signatures are only required from 44 counties.

And McTigue also said the elimination of the "cure period" was misstated on the ballot summary. Petition gatherers currently have 10 days to get more signatures if they fall short of the number they need. It's eliminated in this proposal.

Republican Ballot Board leader defended summary language

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who chairs the ballot board and supports the 60% voter approval amendment, said he realizes a discrepancy exists between the summary language and the amendment text regardingthe number of needed signatures.

"There is a difference between 5% of all eligible voters and 5% of the most recent gubernatorial election," LaRose said.

LaRose explained the summary of the amendment that voters see on the ballot needs to beconcise.

"Putting a ton of words on the actual ballot is confusing to people in and of itself. So we provide an explanation of what's changing. We didn't provide an explanation of what it currently is. We provided an explanation of what would be new if this were to pass and we believe it is going to be sufficient," LaRose said.

He said voters will be able to see and read arguments for and against the issue to get a complete picture of the proposed amendment before early voting starts in July.

"There will be plenty of opportunities for voters to educate themselves prior to standing in the actual ballot box," LaRose said.

He also defended the word "elevating" in Issue 1's title.

"'Elevating' means to raise or increase. That's the first definition in the Webster's dictionary," LaRose said.

While Democrats on the ballot board raised concerns about the language, they didn't propose any changes. DeMora said it wouldn't have done any good.

"Offering futile amendments just to offer amendments isn't going to help anybody's cause," DeMora said.

The Ohio Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit over whether the resolution to put the amendment change on the ballot is legal. If the Republican-dominated court decides the proposed amendment itself is unconstitutional, that could stop the election from moving forward.

Ohio lawmakers want to get the issue before voters in time to thwart a possible November constitutional amendment that seeks to enshrine abortion into the state constitution.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
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