COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Issue 1’s leading supporters and opponents may have taken to the debate stage Tuesday night, but lawmakers and policy experts have been arguing its merits for months.
Issue 1, the sole item on voters’ ballots Aug. 8, would make it more difficult for citizens to propose and pass constitutional amendments. If passed, it would require all future amendments to win at least 60% of the vote to pass instead of the simple majority currently needed.
To get an initiative on the ballot, groups would have to collect signatures from 5% of registered voters in all 88 Ohio counties, an increase from the current 44-county requirement. An existing 10-day curing period for groups who did not gather enough valid signatures would be eliminated.
Ohioans have passed 20 citizen-initiated amendments since establishing the right in 1912.
After the debate, not much has changed for either side.
“Why not protect the constitution, why not protect it from outside groups,” Republican strategist Mehek Cooke said.
Cooke reiterated a key argument for the issue’s supporters: That the Ohio constitution is too easy to change.
“50% plus one is just not enough,” Cooke said. “We want broad support because the constitution is such a fundamental document. We as supporters want more voices heard, more individuals to count, and that’s why 60% is important.”
Sec. of State Frank LaRose echoed a similar sentiment on the debate stage Tuesday night, saying that if Ohio isn’t in broad consensus about an issue, it should instead be left to statutory processes.
Democratic strategist David Pepper said that argument is disingenuous, at best.
“They say, ‘Well, we need to have the people come together in a broad consensus in order to effect change,'” Pepper said. “Well the legislature never comes together in a broad consensus — they run pure party line votes.”
Instead of protecting Ohio’s constitution, Pepper said, Issue 1 would amount to minority rule by allowing 41% of the population to decide an issue. He, like Issue 1’s opponents and supporters alike, have tied its significance to the abortion rights amendment slated for November ballots.
A pro-Issue 1 advertisement claims that the abortion rights amendment, which establishes a right to abortion up until fetal viability, would end parental consent policies regarding abortion and gender-affirming care for minors. The ad has been disproven by constitutional law experts.
“They conflated the issues when they rushed this through for an August special (election) to get ahead of the referendum on reproductive freedom in November,” Pepper said. “This has much bigger implications than just one issue in November, but clearly, this is a major driving force.”
Cooke defended the pro-Issue 1 coalition’s focus on the abortion right amendment, saying it was important for “voters to know what’s at stake.”
While both sides laid out their arguments and went into the details about Issue one during Tuesday night’s debate, neither side could say where the money to fund each campaign is coming from.
“When I’ve raised a little bit of money, which I have for the ‘No on 1’ campaign, it comes from small grassroots givers who are appalled about this attack on their rights,” Pepper said. “My guess is there’s a lot more grassroots support on our side, and what they’re having is big money.”
For supporters’ part, Cooke said whatever campaign finance reports reveal about the campaigns’ spending will likely support the importance of passing Issue 1.
“If the pro side, vote yes, has outside interest group money coming in as well, then there’s your reason,” Cooke said. “This is exactly why we need to increase the threshold to 60%.”
Campaign finance reports will be made public on the Secretary of State’s website Friday — just over one week before Election Day.