Ohio Supreme Court rules August 8 election on constitutional change can go on as planned
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the August 8 election to decide changes to the state's constitution can go forward.
Issue 1 would change the threshold for passing future citizen-initiated constitutional amendments from a simple majority vote to 60% and would make it harder to get on the ballot in the first place. Groups opposing it asked the court to rule the August election invalid based on a Republican-backed law passed last year that banned most August special elections.
A split Ohio Supreme Court disagreed along party lines. Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy and Justices Pat DeWine and Joe Deters, all Republicans, ruled the election could go forward, saying in their ruling, "The special election is authorized by Article XVI, Section 1 of the Ohio Constitution, and the secretary is therefore authorized to proceed with it."
Republican Justice Pat Fischer agreed with the decision but didn't sign onto the majority opinion.
The Court's three Democratic justices Jennifer Brunner, Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, dissented. In the opinion, they write, "What the General Assembly has done is ignore the law. This, it cannot do. While the legislature could have repealed the prohibition on August special elections via legislation, it attempted to do so but failed. That failure speaks volumes."
Late last year, the Republican dominated legislature passed a bill into law that would do away with most August special elections, citing low turnout and high costs. In August 2022, only 7% of registered Ohio voters showed up to vote in an election that cost $20 million.
But earlier this year supporters of legal abortion started a petition signature gathering campaign to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2023 ballot that would enshrine abortion rights into Ohio's constitution. Republican lawmakers have said Issue 1 is on the ballot in August to make it harder for the abortion amendment to get enough support to pass in the fall.
Those supporting the constitutional amendment plan say it will make sure "special interests" don't change Ohio's constitution. The effort to get Issue 1 to the ballot was financed by an Republican billionaire from Illinois and it is backed by anti-abortion groups, gun rights organizations, and business lobby groups.
Opponents say making a change like this in an August election where lower turnout is generally expected is wrong. They say it would allow a minority of voters to decide future constitutional amendment issues, especially given that the August amendment change could be passed by a simple majority. They're also concerned about increased requirements for signatures, which they say will make it nearly impossible for citizens and groups to pursue amendments in the future.
This story will be updated with more information as it becomes available.