Voters in Ohio can begin casting early in-person and mail-in absentee ballots for Ohio Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment, on Tue., July 11. The ballot measure will be decided in a special election on Aug. 8.
Issue 1 would make three changes to the laws governing citizen-initiated constitutional amendments in Ohio. The ballot measure would make the first change to the state’s initiative signature requirements since voters approved the process in 1912. Issue 1 would:
- Require campaigns for initiated constitutional amendments to collect signatures from each of the state’s 88 counties, an increase from the current requirement of 50% of the state’s 88 counties. Campaigns need to collect a number of signatures equal to 5% of the vote in the last governor’s election in each of the counties. This is known as a signature distribution requirement.
- Require a 60% vote for voters to approve a constitutional amendment, whether citizen-initiated or from the General Assembly. Currently, a constitutional amendment requires a simple majority vote (50% plus one) to be approved in Ohio.
- Eliminate the cure period of 10 days for campaigns to gather additional signatures for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments when the original submission did not have enough valid signatures.
Legislators passed a joint resolution for Issue 1, sending the constitutional amendment to the ballot for voters to approve or reject. Issue 1 passed 62-37 in the House, and 26-7 in the Senate. Of the House Republicans, 62 supported and five opposed the amendment, while Senate Republicans backed the proposal. House and Senate Democrats voted against Issue 1.
House Majority Whip Jim Hoops (R-81), who is co-chair of Protect Our Constitution, the campaign supporting the amendment, said Issue 1 “will not make it impossible to amend the Ohio Constitution but rather would require a higher level of consensus and support.” House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-7), who voted against the amendment, said Issue 1 would “take away power from people and put it more firmly into politicians’ hands.”
Ohio is one of 26 states that allow for citizen-initiated ballot measures at the state level. The ballot initiative process allows citizens to propose statutes or constitutional amendments, depending on the state, and collect signatures to place their proposals on the ballot for voters to decide.
Issue 1 would make Ohio, tied with Florida, the state with the highest voter approval requirement to pass citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. This requirement would be 60%. New Hampshire, which doesn’t have an initiative process, has a higher threshold — a two-thirds vote — for legislatively referred constitutional amendments.
Issue 1 would also make Ohio the only state where campaigns must gather signatures from every one of the state’s counties. Ohio has 88 counties, ranging from the 1.32-million-person Franklin County to the 12,565-person Vinton County. Colorado and Nevada also have signature distribution requirements requiring campaigns to gather signatures from each subdivision of the state. In Colorado, campaigns must collect signatures from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts, and, in Nevada, campaigns must collect signatures from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
In Ohio, the special election date – Aug. 8 – has been an area of debate between supporters and opponents of Issue 1. Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-77), who chaired the House Constitutional Resolutions Committee, referred to a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to provide for a state constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including abortion. The campaign for this initiative, Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom, filed signatures on July 5. The initiative could appear on the ballot for Nov. 7, 2023. Rep. Wiggam said, “Republicans aren’t going to put it on the same ballot as the abortion issue. That’s because if they both pass with 50%-plus-one, then abortion would be protected by a 60% threshold into the future.” Issue 1 would require a 60% vote on future constitutional amendments, including in Nov. 2023. Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom has endorsed a “no” vote on Issue 1, and the campaign opposing the abortion-related amendment, Protect Women Ohio, has endorsed a “yes” vote on Issue 1.
Organizations supporting Issue 1, like the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Farm Bureau, and Buckeye Firearms Association, have cited other possible future constitutional amendments related to business regulations, wages, firearms, hunting, and agriculture. Proponents of an initiated constitutional amendment to increase the minimum wage to $15 are collecting signatures for 2024, which Steve Stivers, CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, cited. State Rep. Brian Stewart (R-12) said Issue 1 is needed because “over the last 15 years, there’s definitely been an increase in what a lot of Republicans and conservatives would consider to be far-left ballot proposals” and “how easy it is to sort of buy a slot on the ballot.” Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski also said other issues would be affected. “We understand that it may be abortion rights now, but it’ll be workers’ rights next,” said Obrenski.
Issue 1 isn’t the first time voters have decided on a constitutional amendment regarding the initiative process in Ohio. On two occasions, in 1939 and 1976, voters rejected ballot measures to change the signature requirements. In 1915, voters also rejected an amendment that sought to prevent the submission of constitutional amendments that had been rejected twice, unless six years had passed since the last vote. In 2008, voters approved a measure to change the signature submission deadline for initiatives from 90 days to 125 days before the election. Most recently, in 2015, voters ratified an amendment that prohibited the use of citizen-initiated ballot measures to establish monopolies, oligopolies, or cartels.