Ohio Ballot Board approves language for 60% amendment proposal along party lines, again
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)
One day after an Ohio Supreme Court ruling, the Ohio Ballot Board revised the language for State Issue 1, the Aug. 8 proposal asking voters to require future constitutional amendments clear a 60% supermajority for passage.
The court ordered board members to fix inaccuracies in the ballot language they adopted about a month ago. And although that represents a win for the amendment’s opponents, it was a narrow one. Their arguments accusing the measure’s ballot language of being improperly persuasive and omitting the status quo for comparison went nowhere with the supreme court majority.
The court’s order
The Ohio Supreme Court majority directed the Ballot Board to make two changes. The most obvious had to do with how it described the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot. The Board’s original draft said organizers would need 5% of “eligible voters” in a county when the actual threshold is based on the number of votes in the last gubernatorial election.
The court also directed the board members to change the word “any” in the title “elevating the standards to qualify for and to pass any constitutional amendment.” The 60% passage requirements would apply to any amendment. But the changes in qualifying for the ballot only apply to citizen-initiated amendments.
Meanwhile, the court dismissed claims that the board should indicate the passage requirement is moving from a simple majority to 60%, or that the amendment nixes an existing cure period for signatures. The justices also turned down arguments that the word “elevate” in the ballot title carries a positive connotation that could prejudice voters’ opinions.
The board’s hearing
In a perfunctory meeting the board took up revisions, rejected along party lines two amendments offered by Democratic members, and batted back a bid to change the title. Under state law, Secretary of State Frank LaRose explained, determining the ballot title is prerogative.
In line with the court order, the new title distinguishes between qualifying for and passing a constitutional amendment. The ballot language states initiative petitions must be signed “by at least five percent of the electors of each county based on the total vote in the county for governor in the last preceding election.”
Attorney Don McTigue, representing the group that successfully challenged the original language, argued for additional changes. He argued the new language, “actually makes the ballot title more confusing.”
“The language that we suggest,” McTigue explained, “is ‘elevating the standards for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to qualify for the ballot and raising the popular vote threshold for all constitutional amendments to pass.’”
LaRose didn’t bite.
McTigue also quibbled with the new signatures-per-county language. He argued the language should specify that the requirement is the number of signatures equivalent to five percent of the previous gubernatorial vote — not five percent of the pool of people who actually voted.
Ohio state Sen. Bill DeMora, D-Columbus, moved to change the language in line with McTigue’s suggestion. Before the vote, LaRose dismissed the changes, arguing “it’s substantially the same — accomplishes the same purpose as the proposed language.”
The motion failed.
After the hearing, LaRose downplayed the need for changes, describing them as “small revisions.” He said that, as it stands, there won’t be a problem preparing ballots and conducting an election in early August.
“If there were to be further challenges,” he admitted, “then that would present some logistical problems.”
McTigue didn’t rule out an additional challenge, but said he’d first need to consult his client, the organization One Person One Vote. If they did go back to court, he said, it would happen quickly — but he stressed “that’s an if.”
LaRose also dismissed concerns about funding the August election. Initially, legislation reinstating an August election — which lawmakers effectively eliminated them late last year — carried a $20 million appropriation. In its budget proposal, the Ohio Senate only allocates $15 million.
“I’ve been talking about the number $15 million all along,” LaRose insisted. “But here’s the thing that’s clear, the state law says that it is up to the state to pay for the cost of a special election when the state causes that to happen.”
“And so whether it’s $15 (million) or whether we have to come before the controlling board for a little bit more, that’ll be covered,” he said.
DeMora disputed the Secretary’s assessment. He has already heard concerns from elections officials in Ohio’s two largest counties, DeMora said. And it’s not hard to see why, DeMora argued. Boards are facing a confluence of different demands at the same time.
Signatures for an abortion rights amendment are due July 5. Boards will be busy checking those while early voting begins for the special election Aug. 8. The day after that election, nominating petitions are due for local offices on the ballot in November.
“Oh, and then by the way, we’re having a March primary next year,” DeMora said. “So when we’re done with this election we’ll have to start the process for next election.”
“If the Secretary thinks,” he added, “that boards of elections aren’t overstressed, that they’re not worried about all these things they have to do this year, then he’s mistaken.”
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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