Your questions answered: Issue 1 and the August special election in Ohio

Ohio voters will see a special election on Aug. 8 with a single issue: Should it be harder to change Ohio’s Constitution?

Here’s what to know about Issue 1 on the August ballot.

What is Issue 1?

Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment backed by a strong majority of Ohio’s Republican lawmakers to make it harder to amend the constitution.

  • The issue is complicated, loaded with history, and has far-reaching impacts that are designed to, and ultimately would, change the way Ohio’s government works.
  • Early voting has already begun, but election day is Aug. 8, 2023.
  • The statewide initiative would pass with a simple majority of votes.

What would Issue 1 do, if passed?

Issue 1 would:

  • Require that any proposed amendment to the state constitution receive approval from at least 60% of voters.
    • Currently, approval from a simple majority of voters is enough to pass.
  • Require that citizen-initiated petitions receive a number of signatures equal to 5% of the voters in the most recent gubernatorial election in all 88 Ohio counties in order to get on the ballot.
    • Currently, petitioners only need to hit that quota in 44 Ohio counties.
  • Remove the 10-day “cure period” that allows petitioners to collect additional signatures after filing their petition with the Ohio Secretary of State.
    • Currently, petitioners can use this option to get back above the line in the instances when enough signatures are removed from their petitions in the verification process.
  • Most immediate impact: A passed Issue 1 would move the goal posts for November’s forthcoming abortion-rights amendment, requiring a 60% vote in order to pass.

What does that actually mean?

  • Issue 1′s 60% rule would make it significantly more difficult for all constitutional amendments to pass, regardless of whether the amendment proposal came from the Legislature or the citizenry — the two ways Ohio can bring forth a constitutional amendment.
    • However, Issue 1′s proposal to require petitioners to reach quotas in all 88 counties places a specific burden on citizen-initiated constitutional amendment proposals — one of two ways the constitution can get amended.
    • The impact of making it harder for citizens to amend the constitution depends on who you ask.
      • Those who oppose Issue 1 say it would effectively eliminate Ohio’s citizen-initiative process and further limit citizen power.
      • Those who support Issue 1 say it would protect the Ohio Constitution from outside special interests.

Background: How does the Ohio Constitution get amended?

Ohio has two ways of doing this.

  • Legislature-initiated amendments:
    • This is exactly how Issue 1 got on the ballot.
    • Lawmakers created a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment; that resolution needed to be passed by a ⅗ vote in both the Ohio House and Senate, then that proposed amendment moves to the Secretary of State who puts it on the ballot.
  • Citizen-initiated amendments:
    • The other way is the citizen initiative process, which Ohio adopted back in 1912 and has been untouched since.
    • Canvassers are tasked with going to at least 44 counties to collect a number of signatures equal to 5% of county voters who participated in the most recent gubernatorial election.
    • Note: Ohio is one of 18 states in the country that allows citizens to directly put constitutional amendments on the ballot.

What Issue 1 proponents say:

  • Issue 1 proponents say that the citizen initiative process has been misused by big money and special interests who seek to amend the Ohio Constitution for their own benefits and to the detriment of Ohioans.
    • Those lawmakers point to the 2009 casino initiative which legalized casinos in the state down to the exact plot of land where they could be located; passed by 53% of voters.
      • Note: In 2015, Ohioans passed an “anti-monopoly” issue that prohibits the citizen initiative process from ever creating any “type of special commercial economic interest.” That issue itself, put on the ballot by the legislature, passed with less than 60% of the vote.
    • Many Issue 1 proponents are also against the forthcoming abortion-rights amendment proposal this November, along with other possible initiatives to raise the minimum wage or create new livestock standards of care.
    • Issue 1 proponents largely argue that the Ohio Constitution ought to be a guiding document, and the minutiae of codified law should be left to legislators to instill into Ohio Revised Code.
      • And, as such, Issue 1 proponents believe an amendment should be widely supported with voices heard in all 88 counties in order to merit an appearance on the constitution.

What Issue 1 opponents say:

  • Issue 1 opponents characterize the measure as an unnecessary power grab for Republican lawmakers that will ultimately tilt more power toward special interests in lieu of the power Ohioans currently have.
    • Opponents argue that, if Ohio raises the bar on what makes it to the ballot, the state will exclude citizen petitions from grassroots organizers almost entirely. The only campaigns that would be able to get on the ballot, then, would be well-funded, organized campaigns, likely with something to gain.
    • Opponents also view Issue 1′s 60% rule as a Republican attempt to curtail a popular abortion-rights amendment proposal that will likely appear on the ballot this November.
    • Opponents view Issue 1′s expanded signature-gathering quota as prohibitive, arguing that under Issue 1, a single county would be able to block a citizen-initiated amendment from appearing on the ballot.
    • Aside from the abortion-rights amendment, opponents worry about Issue 1 curtailing citizen amendments that would enact a minimum wage increases or an independent council to draw the state’s legislative districts.
      • Other Issue 1 opponents have taken the stance merely to preserve the ability to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the future, should they need to.
    • Opponents have also criticized the use of an August election, which Republicans pushed for just months after the legislature eliminated nearly all August elections on the grounds that they are expensive, redundant and draw a low turnout.

The Campaigns

There are two prominent campaigns surrounding Issue 1, each composed of groups that have long been involved in the legislative process that brought Issue 1 to where it is now.

The “No” Campaign:

  • One Person One Vote, which runs the campaign website, describes itself as a “citizen-driven, grassroots, non-partisan coalition” that has coalesced to “protect the sacred principle of one person, one vote” and to “preserve majority rule in Ohio.”
    • One Person One Vote organizer Dennis Willard, who worked for decades as a newspaper reporter before starting a public relations firm, told Dayton Daily News that he believes his coalition is one of the biggest bipartisan coalitions Ohio has ever seen.
    • One Person One Vote is endorsed by the Ohio Education Association, Ohio Nurses Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, ACLU of Ohio, Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, the Ohio AFL-CIO and many other citizen groups.

The “Yes” Campaign:

  • Protect Our Constitution, which runs the website, officially launched on May 23.
    • The campaign is co-chaired by Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and House Majority Whip Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon. It’s been endorsed by former Ohio Congressman and current Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Stivers, along with business-forward groups like the Ohio Restaurant Association, the state’s National Federation of Independent Business and the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association.
    • Campaign spokesperson Isaac Northrop told Dayton Daily News that there’s strong support for Issue 1 in all 88 Ohio counties.
  • Both campaigns declined to comment on funding. Each will have to disclose financial information to the state on July 27 and Sept. 15.

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