Poll: majority of GOP lawmakers want to cut voter access to Ohio Constitution

Far fewer think the public actually wants that

By: - April 17, 2023 5:00 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — MARCH 22: State Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, addresses the House Constitutional Resolutions committee meeting first hearing on HJR 1 that would require 60% vote to approve any constitutional amendment, March 22, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

A majority of Ohio’s Republican lawmakers want to make it harder for voters to amend the state Constitution. But significantly fewer think it’s something Ohioans would support at the polls, according to a Gongwer-Werth poll published on Friday.

Some Ohio House Republicans — and Secretary of State Frank LaRose — are reviving a measure that failed in last year’s lame-duck legislative session. It would raise the percentage of votes it would take to amend the Ohio Constitution from 50% to 60%.

Only about a quarter of lawmakers responded to the Gongwer-Werth poll, but the responses might be indicative of the legislature as a whole. Among them, 88% of Republican lawmakers supported the measure,  while far fewer — 56% — believed it would get more than 50% of the vote. Another 19% said they believed it would fail and 25% were undecided.

That means most Republicans aren’t convinced their proposal to require at least 60% of voters to change the Constitution would meet that threshold. But because they’re pushing to hold an election under the current, 50% requirement, it wouldn’t have to.

The current method of amending the Constitution was adopted in 1912 as part of an anti-corruption movement. But among the shifting justifications LaRose and others have given for making it harder for voters to change the Ohio Constitution is that wealthy, corrupt interests might be able to rewrite the state’s founding document.

That might sound questionable in a state whose Republican leadership has been rocked by several major corruption scandals in recent years. And one of the leaders of the movement to curtail voter access to the state Constitution — Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville — seems to have given the game away last year.

Pitching the measure during lame duck, LaRose denied that he was trying to block amendments to end gerrymandering or to protect abortion rights. 

He was speaking just after a redistricting commission he was part of repeatedly ignored two anti-gerrymandering amendments that had passed with more than 70% of the vote. Also last year, a restrictive abortion law had taken effect in Ohio, and it prompted a backlash similar to some in other states that have been overwhelmingly sustained at the polls

Despite LaRose’s demure, Stewart wrote a letter to Republican colleagues giving his reasons to make it harder for voters to amend the Constitution that was obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

He said the 60% threshold was needed because “the left” would undo “decades of Republicans’ work to make Ohio a pro-life state.” 

Of the possibility of a more tightly worded anti-gerrymandering amendment, Stewart wrote that Democrats wanted “to put (then-Chief Justice) Maureen O’Connor (an elected Republican) and other unelected liberals in charge of drawing legislative districts, not only of the Ohio legislature, but control of the United States House of Representatives as well.”

Now an abortion-rights amendment is expected to hit the ballot in November and the now-retired O’Connor has called for another anti-gerrymandering amendment as well. Meanwhile, LaRose and Stewart are calling to put their measure making it harder to pass those amendments on the August ballot — just months after they supported a measure ending low-turnout August elections.

The Gongwer-Werth poll published Friday might indicate further GOP disregard for public sentiment, with its 32-point drop-off between the percentage of lawmakers who think cutting voter access to the Constitution is a good idea and the percentage who think voters want it.

Despite that, the Republican respondents seemed to think voters agree with them on the underlying issues.

Asked whether they believed voters would approve an abortion-rights amendment, just 25% of them said yes, while 38% said no and 38% were undecided. Democratic lawmakers were much more certain, with 92% saying they thought such an amendment would get a majority vote.

On the issue of another anti-gerrymandering amendment, GOP lawmakers seemed to ignore recent history, in which more than 70% of voters approved earlier such initiatives. Just 13% of respondents thought one would secure a majority, while 41% said no and 47% were undecided. All Democrats responded that they thought one would pass.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.