Ohio Ballot Board Approves Language for August Amendment Proposal Despite Objections

Republican lawmakers’ proposal would make it harder to pass future constitutional amendments by requiring 60% of the vote.

May 19, 2023 at 10:56 am
click to enlarge The five-member panel determines what exactly voters will read when they get their ballot. - Photo: Edmond Dantès, Pedels
Photo: Edmond Dantès, Pedels
The five-member panel determines what exactly voters will read when they get their ballot.
The Ohio Ballot Board has approved language for an August ballot measure from Ohio Republican lawmakers. The proposal asks voters whether to make it harder to pass future constitutional amendments by requiring 60% of the vote. The board’s two Democrats and an outside organization currently suing to block the August election criticized the ballot language and it’s explanation.

What’s the ballot board and what does it do?

The five-member panel determines what exactly voters will read when they get their ballot. The Ohio Secretary of State chairs the board consisting of four other members selected by legislative leaders in the Ohio House and Senate. No more than two of those selections can be from the same party.

In addition to drafting the exact ballot language, the board also comes up with an explanation of what the proposal would do. However, the board’s secretary Jeff Hobday explained that wording carries very specific requirements.

“If a condensed version of the proposal is used, the ballot language must not omit substance of a proposal that is material,” Hobday said. “Additionally, if the proposed amendment is condensed, the resulting language must not result in or imply a persuasive argument.”

The board also set the terms for disseminating information about the proposal, and designated the groups responsible for drafting arguments for and against the measure.

Pushback

Attorney Don McTigue, who’s representing the organization One Person One Vote, pointed to numerous passages in the ballot board’s draft language that fail to give a neutral presentation.

“None of the bullet points explain what the current constitutional provision is,” he argued. “It’s not telling the voters what change they’re being asked to make.”

He repeatedly argued voters should see the current requirements and how they’d change — rather than just the changes the amendment offers. Voters should know the requirement is going from a simple majority to 60%; they should know signature requirements will expand from 44 to all 88 counties.

McTigue added that one line is flatly untrue.

“The statement about at least 5% of the eligible voters of each county is actually not accurate,” he explained. “It’s 5% of the most recent gubernatorial vote in that county.”

He also took issue with the title Secretary LaRose came up with for the proposal: “elevating the standards to qualify for and to pass any constitutional amendment.” State law requires the title be “true and impartial,” McTigue argued, and not likely to “create prejudice for or against” the proposal.

“We believe that there is an egregious violation of those standards with regard to the first three words that say elevating the standards,” McTigue said. “Elevating is a word that has connotations, that most people would say, meaning to raise up in status, raise up in honor.”

He argued the title should instead use a value neutral term like “change” or “modify.”

The Democrats’ take

Board member Rep. Elliot Forhan, D-South Euclid, took up McTigue’s argument about needing to describe current law as well as the change. He brought up the state supreme court’s comparison to local zoning changes.

“You wouldn’t ask a subdivision or a municipality to approve a change in the zoning law if you didn’t explain to them exactly what the change in the zoning was,” he explained. “Our state supreme court said, something of this nature has a far greater effect than a change in the zoning law.”

“The omission of what the existing law is,” he added, “that it, at the moment, only requires a simple majority, that indeed fails to meet that standard.”

Another board member, Sen. Bill DeMora, D-Columbus, criticized the ballot description’s use of the phrase “proposed by a 2/3 majority” of state lawmakers. The standard to make the ballot is a 3/5 majority in each chamber.

“I’ll point out that 88 members of the 132 members of the General Assembly voted for it, which is exactly two thirds and that’s why we use that language,” LaRose explained.

LaRose only arrives at that figure because the state Senate’s lopsided GOP majority. In the House, the margin was much narrower.

“In the House actually 62 people voted in the affirmative for the amendment,” DeMora argued, “and two thirds would be 66 out of 99, so two thirds is clearly incorrect.”

The margin of victory in the General Assembly, of course, is irrelevant to the proposal once it goes before voters. For instance, none of the past three general assembly initiated amendments’ explanations made any mention of vote margin. Its inclusion, regardless of how LaRose calculated it, only underscores critics’ concerns about “prejudicial” language.

The Republican side

The board’s GOP members were remarkably quiet throughout the hearing. Aside from LaRose explaining his math and introducing agenda items, the only times they piped up was to second his motions to approve.

Despite the objections of Democrats, the board voted along party lines to approve the draft ballot language and explanation. They made no changes.

This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.

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