Ohio Ballot Board fights back against abortion amendment lawsuit

By: - April 5, 2023 4:55 am

Voters casting ballots. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Ohio Ballot Board submitted its comments to the Ohio Supreme Court, pushing back against claims they abused their power in verifying a proposed abortion amendment to the state constitution.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office wrote a brief on behalf of the ballot board, saying its members “correctly refused to usurp the people’s power by splitting the petition … into multiple amendments.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two members of Cincinnati Right to Life, argued that the amendment contains more than one constitutional issue, therefore should be split, and should not have been unanimously approved by the ballot board.

The ballot board’s OK allowed pro-abortion rights groups to move forward with signature collection, in which they must collect more than 400,000 valid voter signatures by July 5.

Because the proposed amendment mentions reproductive health and abortion, attorney Curt Hartman argued the ballot measure involved two different issues, a claim pro-abortion rights groups and the Ohio Ballot Board members deny.

“The weakness of (Right to Life members Margaret DeBlase and John Giroux’s) claim is best exemplified by their failure to argue how many proposed amendments are supposedly included within the petition and what those amendments are,” Assistant Attorney General Julie Pfeiffer wrote on behalf of the ballot board.

The ballot board is made up of legislative members, citizens, and the Ohio Secretary of State, who chairs the board. Currently, the legislative members are state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green; state Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson, D-Toledo; and state Rep. Elliot Forhan, D-South Euclid.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose is the chair, and Stoutsville resident William Morgan completes the board.

One of the arguments made in the lawsuit is that no discussion was held when the board met to consider the amendment. LaRose asked for discussion before he asked for a vote, and none happened.

Gavarone was the only one to make a comment, speaking against the amendment, but voting yes to the move, calling it a “procedural” vote.

“(Giroux and DeBlase) fail to show how any alleged failure by the ballot board members to conduct a fulsome discussion amongst themselves before voting to certify the proposed amendment led to a decision that was ‘unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable,” the AG’s office wrote in defense of the board.

LaRose made several comments during the meeting explaining that the vote did not represent any comments on the merits of the initiative, and instructed the public not to speak on the merits, as the vote was only to decide whether the measure only involved one constitutional issue.

In response to the lawsuit, Pfeiffer brought up Giroux, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Giroux called the amendment “intentionally unjust and misleading,” but he “did not offer any specific proposal splitting up the petition or further opine as to the number or content of the separate amendments contained therein,” the board argued to the court.

The ballot board did not need to analyze facts in the case, Pfeiffer argued, only whether the petition contains one amendment “on the face of the document.”



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.