COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Next May, Ohio voters could be asked to make it more difficult for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to become law.
A state constitutional amendment announced by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and State Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) on Thursday would raise the bar for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to pass from a simply majority to requiring at least 60 percent of the vote. Dubbed the “Ohio Constitution Protection Amendment,” its official supporters said in a press release it is designed to help “protect the Ohio Constitution from continued abuse by special interests and out-of-state activists.”
“If you don’t think your idea is broadly popular enough to muster 60 percent vote of the people, then really you should not consider bringing it to the ballot,” LaRose said at a press conference Thursday.
The proposed amendment wouldn’t affect all constitutional amendments that make it to ballot — ones initiated via a two-thirds vote by Ohio’s General Assembly would still pass with a simple majority of voters. It also wouldn’t affect initiated statutes, citizen-proposed legislation like one to legalize recreational marijuana that will likely be slated for voters’ review in 2023.
Dennis Willard from We Are Ohio, a citizen-led coalition focused on workers’ rights, called the proposed amendment an attempt to weaken Ohioans’ votes.
“I believe it’s a power grab,” Willard said. “They want to take the power away from the voters and control everything. That’s what this is.”
According to a Secretary of State press release, there have been 16 petition-based constitutional amendments on Ohio ballots since 2000. Five amendments passed, three of which had at least 60 percent of the vote.
LaRose said the proposed amendment would bolster “compromise and consensus-building,” two things he said ought to be present when considering changes to Ohio’s constitution. But other politicians disagree that his proposed amendment is the solution.
“Once again, Republicans want to change the rules to increase their own stranglehold on power,” Ohio House Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said in a statement. “This is an attempt to erase the voices of Ohio voters and intentionally create barriers between citizens and their democracy.”
State Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) agreed with Russo, saying in a statement that the proposal and other actions by Republican state officials amount to attempts to weaken opposition voices at a time when “issues like workers’ rights, voters’ rights, and abortion rights” are on voters’ minds.
“The reckless arrogance of an unchecked GOP supermajority is on full display,” Sweeney said. “It’s difficult to imagine being so afraid of the popular will when they already have such a rigged monopoly on power.”
Nine other states have supermajorities for petition-based constitutional amendments: Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Nebraska, Mississippi, Wyoming and Florida. LaRose said he hopes the state legislature approves the amendment during its lame-duck session.
If approved, the amendment would be on ballots in May — and require a simple majority to pass.