OUR VIEW: Keep our living document alive

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Issue 1 is one of the most significant issues Ohioans have ever seen on a ballot.

On Aug. 8, Ohio voters will decide on the future of how our state constitution is amended. Beyond the change from a simple majority vote for amendments — an affront to the idea of “one person, one vote,” — Issue 1 would create an even more daunting challenge. It would require citizen-led amendment efforts to collect signatures equal to 5% of the voters in the most recent gubernatorial election in all 88 Ohio counties, instead of the currently required 44.

To be clear, that could effectively give veto power to a single county. If opponents of an amendment want to defeat it, they could focus their efforts on the county most favorable to their side, even if that means the smallest county defeats the will of the entire state.

Vinton County, for example, is the smallest in the state with around 12,500 people. Ohio is home to nearly 12 million people. That means less than about 0.1% of Ohioans could determine the fate of a proposed amendment.

To add insult to injury, Issue 1 would also remove the 10-day “cure period” that allows petitioners to collect additional signatures after filing their petition with the Ohio Secretary of State, should some of their submitted signatures be ruled invalid.

Taken together, these changes would make citizen-initiated amendments almost impossible.

It is an obvious power grab intended to thwart a handful of anticipated citizen-initiated amendments. You need only look at the special interest and political groups lining up in favor of Issue 1 to see who feels threatened by the popular will of Ohioans: Ohio Right to Life, to fight against the reproductive rights amendment on the November ballot; the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, to get ahead of a potential minimum wage and at-will employment proposals; the Ohio GOP, to fend off any proposed redistricting reform.

Issue 1 is not a referendum on any of these issues, it’s a referendum on the rules that allow Ohioans to participate in their own governance. It’s a referendum on whether Ohioans are to be trusted with their own power over their state constitution. Voting “Yes” is a vote to dramatically reduce the power of everyday Ohioans — your power — to increase the power of the legislature. This will have far-reaching consequences that extend well beyond party lines.

Just because the General Assembly is overwhelmingly red today does not mean it will always be so. The same rules the GOP and other special interests seek to change now, in order to win short-term political victories, could easily come back to haunt them in the future should the Statehouse ever be reclaimed by the Democrats.

If you are an ardent opponent of abortion, or minimum wage hikes, or redistricting reform, organize and fight to win over the popular majority to your side as you would any other issue. Don’t change the rules of the game to win.

The Ohio Constitution is a living document that, in order for our state government to be more responsive to and representative of the will of the people, is subject to scrutiny and change to a much greater degree than the U.S. Constitution. Notably, the powers of the initiative and referendum were added 111 years ago in response to a state legislature that listened to special interests above the voice of their constituents.

In an environment where the legislature again seems increasingly motivated by special interests and protecting their own power, it is in Ohio citizens’ best interest to vote “No” on Issue 1.

Finally, due to the unfortunate circumstances that created this expensive and wasteful special election, we encourage signing up to be a poll worker, both for the August and November elections. Poll workers are an essential part of the machinery of democracy and, given higher-than-expected turnout, they are needed now more than ever.