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

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

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.
  • Ohioans will vote on Issue 1 on August 8, 2023.
  • The statewide initiative would pass with a simple majority of votes.
  • Voter registration is due by July 10.

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 signatures from 5% of the voters in the most recent gubernatorial election in all 88 Ohio counties in order to get on the ballot.
  • Currently, petitions only need signatures from 5% of voters from 44 counties.
  • Remove the 10-day “cure period” that allows petitioners to collect additional signatures after filing their petition with the Ohio Secretary of State.
  • 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 immediately: A passed Issue 1 would move the goal posts for November’s forthcoming abortion-rights amendment.

What does that actually mean?

  • Issue 1 would make it significantly more difficult for all constitutional amendments to pass.
  • However, it places a new, 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.

  • One way is exactly how Issue 1 got on the ballot. Legislators use a joint resolution to propose a constitutional amendment; that resolution needs to be passed by a ⅗ vote in both the Ohio House and Senate, then that proposed amendment is voted on in a statewide election.
  • The other way is the citizen initiative process, adopted back in 1912 and untouched since. Canvassers are tasked with collecting signatures from 5% of the voters who participated in the most recent gubernatorial election in 44 counties. That proposed amendment is then voted on in a statewide election.
  • Ohio is one of few states in the country to have this process. It allows a simple majority of voters to bypass the Ohio Legislature entirely and codify law into the state constitution.

What Issue 1 proponents say:

  • Issue 1 proponents say that the citizen initiative process has been perverted and 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.”
  • Also raising concerns among Issue 1 proponents is the forthcoming abortion-rights amendment proposal this November, along with other possible initiatives to raise the minimum wage or legalize marijuana.
  • 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, 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, 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 — and the desperate rush to get it voted on before November — as a way to curtail a popular abortion-rights amendment proposal that will likely appear on the ballot this November.
  • Opponents of Issue 1 most often cite the forthcoming abortion-rights amendment, a potential minimum-wage increase amendment, and an anti-gerrymandering amendment as issues they’re worried Issue 1 would curtail.
  • Opponents have also criticized the use of an August election. Lawmakers have called it an additive, unnecessary expense and characterized August elections as low-turnout and overwhelming for local boards of election.

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.
  • It’s been 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.
  • Willard said the campaign will include an 88-county ground game to engage and register voters, along with paid media.

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.
  • Isaac Northrop, campaign spokesperson and former legislative aide at the Statehouse, said there’s strong support for Issue 1 in all 88 Ohio counties.
  • Northrop said there the campaign will have a ground game supplemented by paid media, too.
  • Both campaigns declined to comment on funding. Each will have to disclose financial information on July 27 and Sept. 15.

Legal Challenges

As of May 24, there are two legal challenges the Supreme Court of Ohio is considering that pertain to issue one, both filed by opposition coalition One Person One Vote, a group of over 100 Ohio organizations that have coalesced against Issue 1.

The first legal challenge, filed May 12, ultimately questions the legality of holding an August special election under current Ohio law. The challengers seek to cancel the August special election altogether.

  • Background: When this saga officially kicked off earlier this year, what became Issue 1 was a two-pronged legislative approach. One prong (Senate Joint Resolution 2) proposed the amendment, the other prong (Senate Bill 92) called for, and funded, an August special election.
  • The special election bill was ultimately nixed in the final days of the legislative process and its contents were folded into SJR2.
  • However, SB92 was seen as an essential part of the process because, just months earlier, a Republican-backed election reform bill limited the scenarios that warranted an August special election on the grounds that such elections were expensive, unnecessary and produced a low turnout.
  • Importantly, SJR2 does not immediately alter Ohio law.
  • On those grounds, One Person One Vote alleges that the scheduled single-issue August election is “unlawful.”
  • In response on May 22, representatives of state Attorney General Dave Yost, who represents the State of Ohio in legal matters, argued that the Ohio Constitution flatly gives the Legislature the power to propose constitutional amendments and the power to put that proposal before voters in a special or general election, at the Legislature’s behest.
  • It is not yet clear how the Ohio Supreme Court will rule, or exactly when, but a decision is expected soon.

The second lawsuit, filed on May 23, challenges the official language that the Republican-leaning Ohio Ballot Board approved on May 18. The lawsuit, along with allegations from Democrat board members during and after the Ballot Board meeting, argues that the approved language was unfair, misleading, and even factually incorrect, at parts.

The case has not yet moved forward.