Issue 1, up for a statewide vote on Aug. 8, proposes making it harder to pass a constitutional amendment and making it harder for citizen-initiated amendments to get on the ballot in the first place.
It would achieve the former by raising the vote threshold from a simple majority to 60%, and achieve the latter by requiring citizens to hit signature quotas in all 88 Ohio counties before a citizen-initiated amendment could hit the ballot.
The 60% move has been touted by lawmakers who warn that the state’s founding document is gradually turning into a policy document with each new passed amendment — a concern based on the principle of what a state constitution should be.
“If a constitution is easy to amend, the differences between general laws and the constitution become harder to spot. The document grows into a policy statement as opposed to a statement of first principles,” explained Mark Caleb Smith, a professor of political science at Cedarville University.
By design, the 60% rule would fundamentally change the way Ohio citizens and lawmakers have gone about creating law over the past 111 years.
Since Ohioans were first able to regularly exercise their direct power over the state constitution in 1913, 71 citizen-led amendments have made it to the ballot. Ohioans passed 19 of them.
Still true today, those amendments needed only a simple majority of a statewide vote in order to pass. If it had been in place then, the 60% rule would have kept eight of the 19 citizen-initiated amendments out of the Ohio Constitution. In that same time frame, the Ohio General Assembly put 156 initiatives on the ballot, of which Ohioans approved 108. A 60% rule would have prevented 41 of those amendments.
On the General Assembly side, those amendments have been used to clean up the state constitution, marginally alter law (like in 1970 when an amendment allowed newspapers to serve as notice for municipal charter changes), set bonds for public works projects and designate more powers to local authorities, among other things.
Republican lawmakers in favor of the 60% rule say that the Ohio Constitution, a foundational document, should be harder to amend to avoid turning the charter into a growing policy document.
Here’s a brief list of some Legislature-initiated proposals approved by less than 60% of Ohioans:
- In 1951, an amendment allowed counties to have more than 1 probate judge (55.7%)
- In 1953, an amendment created the Board of Education (56.8%)
- In that same year, an amendment allowed non-white males into the militia (58.2%)
- In 1954, an amendment set four-year terms on governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state (55.5%)
- In 1956, an amendment set four-year terms for state senators (57.4%)
- In 1957, an amendment allowed the formation of county charters (51%)
- In 1959, an amendment allowed municipalities to provide water and sewer services outside their boundaries (58.3%)
- In that same year, an amendment allowed for more judges in appellate courts (56%)
- In 1973, an amendment gave the Legislature authority to exclude some incomes from income taxes (59.55%)
- In 1990, an amendment allowed state and local municipalities to provide or fund affordable housing developments (52.9%)
- In 2015, an amendment blocked special interests from using constitutional amendments to create monopolies (51.5%)
On the citizen-initiated side, amendments passed by less than 60% more often dealt with issues of personal impact. Here’s the complete list:
- In 1914, an amendment established home rule on liquor sales (50.6%)
- In 1918, an amendment prohibited liquor sales statewide (51.4%)
- That same year, an amendment called for varying classifications of properties for tax purposes (52.5%)
- In 1933, an amendment set a maximum 10 mill limit on levies (59.7%)
- That same year, an amendment granted home rule to county and township organizations (53.3)
- In 1949, an amendment removed automatic straight-ticket voting at the poll booths (57.3)
- In 2006, an amendment raised the minimum wage to $6.85 an hour (56.7%)
- In 2009, an amendment allowed for certain casinos to operate at certain locations throughout the state (53%)
Ohioans hoping to vote on Issue 1 need to be registered by Monday. Early voting on the single-issue election begins Tuesday , and the election takes place Aug. 8.