By Gregory T. Moore
The turnout of voters in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County will be key to the results of the August 8th special election that could determine how constitutional amendments are passed in all future statewide elections. Beginning July 11th during the Early Vote period,voters from across the state will begin casting early ballots on the proposed Issue #1. If passed, it will amend the current Ohio Constitution to increase the percentage of votes needed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment.
Currently a 50% + 1 majority of the vote is needed for passage, which has been the case for over 111 years in the state of Ohio. On May 10th Republican legislators pushed through a controversial bill, Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR2), a constitutional amendment to increase the percentage of votes needed to amend the constitution from 50% +1 to 60%.
According to Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, the amendment, if approved by Ohio voters would make “signature gathering requirements almost impossible while raising the passage rate to 60% (from a simple majority). It’s an enormous power grab!”
In addition to that change the Republican led referendum would increase the requirements for the collection of signatures needed to place an issue on the statewide ballot from the current 44 counties to all 88 counties. By essentially doubling the number of counties needed to collect signatures, Issue #1 would allow just one county out of 88 to stop a constitutional amendment from ever being voted on, despite the overwhelming support of voters across the state. According to opponents of Issue #1, failing to get enough valid signatures in one county could invalidate the entire issue from making it to the ballot so voters will never have the opportunity to decide to support or oppose a constitutional amendment, according to the Ohio League of Women Voters.
A broad-based, bi-partisan statewide coalition of over 110 voting rights, civil rights, labor, faith-based, and other allied groups have been leading the effort against Issue #1 under the banner “One Person, One Vote.” The coalition is waging a spirited grassroots campaign urging voters to “Vote NO in August“ on Issue #1. The campaign against the passage of SJR2 began last fall when the bill was first introduced by the Republican supermajority in the Ohio House and Senate in response to a pro-choice petition campaign to enshrine reproductive rights into the Ohio Constitution. Sensing a swell of support for reproductive rights across the US, even in deep red states like Kansas and Missouri, Ohio GOP leaders have pushed to increase the requirements for passage to 60%, according to a CBS news report.
Voting rights advocates challenged both the amendment’s ballot language and the holding of the election in August, in violation of a recently passed bill by the same legislature to eliminate August elections due to low voter turnouts. The One Person One Vote advocates were successful in winning an Ohio Supreme Court ruling on June 12th to revise the language that clarified the needed signature collections in each county. The coalition released a statement asserting that “the language politicians and special interests wanted on our ballots for Issue 1 was full of lies. We’re glad the Ohio Supreme Court saw through the deception and ordered changes.
However, on June 20, 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court voted 3 to 4 across party lines to clear the way for the placement of the issue on the August 8th ballot, ruling that the legislature’s bill passed just last year to eliminate August elections was constitutional. The placement of Issue #1 on the ballot drew an unusual response from the former Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner who has been supportive of the coalition’s efforts. In an interview with CBS News, O’Conner stated “When you keep changing the rules and moving the goalposts, you are intentionally silencing the vote of the people.”
Pro-choice advocates have been collecting signatures since last fall to place the issue on the November 7, 2023 statewide ballot. Recent polling on the issue from the Associated Press reveals support for reproductive rights receiving 59% of the support from Ohio voters. Republican lawmakers initially denied any connection to the pro-abortion petition drive. However, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, in a May 22nd speech revealed that “This is 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of the constitution.”
In addition to the One Person One Vote Coalition, African American organizations have banded together under the Ohio Unity Coalition and developed a series of messages and voter engagement tools to help inform Black voters about the impact of this unprecedented and radical change to the Ohio Constitution. Ohio Unity Coalition leader, Ms. Petee Talley, stated that African Americans would be detrimentally impacted by the passing of Issue #1. “For instance, if a majority of voters want to pass a new measure to reform the redistricting process, increase the state minimum wage to $15/hour, or pass state police accountability measures, 41% of the voters can cause the measure to fail even though 59% voted for the measure to pass.”
The last day to register to vote is July 10th. You can register to vote online or update your current voter registration address at <https://olvr.ohiosos.gov>.
VOTE BY MAIL
You can request an absentee ballot from the Cuyahoga County Board of Election.
Voters can begin voting early in person for the August Special election on July 11th at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, 2925 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland. Early voting runs from Tuesday, July 11th through Sunday, August 6th.