Ohio Supreme Court says Issue 1 ballot language must be rewritten
“Gavel,” a sculpture by Andrew F. Scott, outside the Supreme Court of Ohio. Credit: Sam Howzit / Creative Commons.
The Ohio Supreme Court handed down a ruling Monday that ordered Issue 1’s ballot language to be rewritten.
This gives a small win to opponents of the proposal to make it more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution. However, it could also give a major win to supporters.
On August 8, Ohioans will decide on Issue 1, which would raise the threshold for a constitutional amendment to pass from a simple majority, or 50% plus one to 60%.
One Person One Vote, a nonpartisan coalition against Issue 1, sued to change the language they call biased in the proposed amendment. The Republican-leaning court granted part of their request.
“The ballot board shouldn’t put their hand on the scale,” Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio said.
This ruling could be seen as a slight victory for Turcer and other groups who oppose Issue 1.
“The Ohio Supreme Court stated that it needed to be accurate,” she said.
The Ohio Ballot Board is ordered to rewrite the title of the ballot, which opponents argued is misleading.
The board must remove the word “any” from the title of the ballot issue: “Elevating the standards to qualify for and to pass any constitutional amendment.”
The opinion states that the inclusion of the word “any” incorrectly implies that signature-gathering requirements will also be applied to amendments referred by the state legislature.
“Secretary LaRose’s use of the word ‘any’ in the title here is likely to mislead voters,” the court wrote.
Another order is for the board to meet and adopt “lawful” language that “accurately characterizes” and explains the term “electors.” The court also ordered the board to include how many signatures would be required to qualify an initiative petition for the ballot. This came after state officials made an error in the number of signatures and admitted it to the court.
One Person One Vote praised the court’s decision.
“The language politicians and special interests wanted on our ballots for Issue 1 was full of lies,” Dennis Willard, group spokesperson, said. “We’re glad the Ohio Supreme Court saw through the deception and ordered changes.”
The court could have done more, Turcer argued.
“I’m glad that the Supreme Court stepped in,” she said. “But they just didn’t quite go far enough.”
The court dismissed opponents’ main concern: the proposal doesn’t list the current requirement for a constitutional amendment, so voters won’t know that they are actually making it harder for themselves.
On the other side of the argument, Laura Streitmann with Cincinnati Right to Life says that actually, this ruling helps the supporters more.
“We think it’s just refinement,” Streitmann said. “I don’t think it’s a win for them.”
Opponents have another lawsuit against the state, arguing that the way the lawmakers passed the resolution was illegal, and thus an August election can’t happen.
“[The court] wouldn’t have made them refine the language if they weren’t going to move forward with the August election, right?” Streitmann said. “We’re taking it as a win on our side for sure.”
OCJ/WEWS asked nonpartisan election law expert and professor at Case Western Reserve University Atiba Ellis about the ramifications this may have.
“It does seem like there’s the implication that by ruling on what is in essence, a technical issue around the wordsmithing, that the larger premise of the referendum going forward seems to pass the Ohio Supreme Court’s measure,” Ellis told Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau. “Yet, I do think that the problem that you’ve just identified in terms of the legality of this, in the larger sense, until the Ohio Supreme Court specifically speaks to it, I think that ambiguity is still there.”
This will be a long process, he added.
“This is only one in the number of battles that will be had about this amendment and implicitly any substantive referendums that get passed after this amendment process concludes,” he said. “This is only the beginning of the litigation, not the end.”
The office of Secretary of State Frank LaRose provided this statement:
“Our goal in approving the ballot language for Issue 1 was to make it as clear and concise as possible. The court has ordered us to put a more complex explanation on the ballot, which we know can often lead to voter confusion, but we’ll follow the court’s directive.”
The ballot board will meet on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. to draft new language.
This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
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