Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, is leading an effort to change the rules on ballot issues that amend the state constitution by requiring those issues to receive 60% of the vote in order to pass.
Ohio citizens can bypass the legislature in order to set policy through the ballot issue in two different ways; A beginner’s law or constitutional amendment.
LaRose says he wants to raise the threshold for how much voter support is required in order to amend the state constitution, from a simple majority to a three-fifths majority, or 60%.
“Something as serious as amending our Constitution should require the kind of consensus necessary to get to 60%,” said LaRose.
Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) is sponsoring the resolution, which will need to pass the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate by the end of this year in order to be put on the primary ballot in May.
The decision will only apply to citizen-led constitutional amendments.
Any constitutional amendment put on the ballot by the Ohio General Assembly through a resolution, such as Stewart’s, needs only a simple majority—or 50% plus 1—in order to pass.
With Republicans overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, community activists are criticizing the move as a way to weaken the voice of people who disagree with the dominant party.
Dennis Willard, We Are Ohio’s Director of Communications, has a long history of working on suffrage campaigns. The We Are Ohio campaign successfully eliminated SB5 in 2011.
Willard also worked on campaigns for constitutional amendments to lower drug prices, reform criminal drug offenses, and legalize marijuana—all of which did not exceed the simple majority currently required.
Willard said that suffrage issues give citizens the right to “direct democracy” and that LaRose’s proposal weakens that right.
“I absolutely think it’s a power grab. They want to take power away from the electorate and they want to control everything,” Willard said.
LaRose said that this would only apply to constitutional amendments and that if citizens were concerned about their ability to enact a policy change, they could still propose a law initiated by a simple majority.
A law initiated is a longer process that gives legislators a chance to pass a law made in a citizen’s petition that, if it doesn’t pass, can go to the ballot. If passed, that becomes part of Revised Ohio Law and not the state constitution.
The proposal comes at a time when several issues could be put on the ballot, including an amendment to protect abortion rights and another to legalize recreational marijuana.