Ohio voters go to the ballot box next Tuesday to vote on “Issue One,” a proposition to change how initiative-and-referendum (I&R) originated amendments to the Ohio constitution can pass. Pro-lifers want you to vote “yes.”
Background: I&R was an idea, popular in the early 20th century, to enable voters to put laws directly on the ballot, bypassing legislatures. The “Progressives” (that was their name) back then claimed legislatures were often under the control of special interests, so I&R was a way to get around blockage by politicians. In most states, I&R requires getting a certain number of signatures, distributed in a certain way across the state, to put a proposal on the ballot.
Right now, Ohio I&R allows putting an amendment to the state constitution — the fundamental and supreme law of a state — if you collect signatures in 44 of the state’s 88 counties and can get a simple majority (50% + 1 of those voting) to agree. “Issue One” would require signatures from all Ohio counties and a 60% approval by voters.
Why the change?
Because the current system, while claiming to be “democratic,” is actually prone to special interests when it comes to changing the state constitution. All you need is to get a one-time simple majority — not even of all registered voters, just those who bothered that day to show up — to make a permanent change in the state’s basic law.
That’s very unusual. It’s an outlier.
In most states, changing the state constitution usually requires two votes in the state legislature (sometimes by super majorities), often with an election intervening between those voters so that a new set of legislators also agree. Only then does the amendment go to the voters.
Even in Ohio, if the state legislature wants to change the Ohio constitution, it cannot do so by simple majority. Each house of the Ohio legislature has to muster a 3/5 vote before the amendment goes to the voters to approve. Issue One would simply apply the same rule to I&R-originated amendments.
That seems like the least thing one could do, considering that amendments originating in the state legislature get three reviews: one by the lower house, one by the state senate, and then one by the voters. I&R-originated amendments simply have to blow across the finish line with one more “yes” than “no” vote on a one time deal.
Issue One wants to fix that.
Why raise the number of counties where votes need to be collected? To make sure all Ohioans are represented. Ohio is very much like a small United States. It’s got cities (Cleveland, Cincinnati), suburbs and rural areas. Right now, to get enough signatures to put an issue on the ballot, you simply have to run up your numbers in big cities and their immediate suburbs, grab a few neighboring counties, and then get a handful of signatures in other places to meet the requirement. You can treat the rest of Ohio — especially the “hicks in the sticks” — as “flyover country.”
Issue One enfranchises all Ohioans. It stops urban political machines from “turn out the vote” campaigns that railroad their desires over the rest of the state.
But doesn’t that undermine “one person, one vote?” No. America has always recognized that consensus is not just a head count, and deep consensus is especially important when it comes to changing a constitution. The reason we have a Senate (where Delaware is equal to California) or an electoral college (where every state’s vote counts) is to ensure that legislation and presidents have to involve and appeal to everybody, not just populous areas to the disregard of “flyover country.”
Ohio likes being a bellwether state: remember the 2004 election, which turned on Ohio? Well, if it wants to carry that weight nationally, it should ensure every Ohioan’s interests count.
One final note: somebody may object that many I&R states allow laws to pass with simple majorities. That’s misleading. Constitutional amendments are not mere “laws.” They are basic changes to a place’s fundamental law. They should not be treated as ordinary, run-of-the-mill legislation, like whether to impose a nickel bottle deposit.
Michelle Goldberg, in the Aug. 4 New York Times, has a screed about the referendum, “The Critical Election Republicans Hope You Won’t Notice.” The gist of her argument is that Issue One “is a vote that demonstrates why reproductive rights and the preservation of democracy … are intertwined.” It’s what pro-abortionists hope to use as wedge issues to win elections and enshrine abortion.
What’s behind Issue One? Most directly, pro-abortionists in Ohio have put a very radical “Right to Reproductive Freedom” amendment to the Ohio Constitution on the Nov. 7 ballot. That amendment would say the Ohio Constitution protects abortion through birth, denies parents any say over their minor child’s abortion, and force taxpayers to pay for abortions. It would also likely legalize surrogacy and require public financing of in vitro fertilization, because it says the state cannot “discriminate” against “fertility treatment.”
Right now, that amendment could pass if one more voter says “yes” than “no” Nov. 7, even if the majority of Ohioans did not vote (this is an off-election year) and that extra vote was found at 4am in some “vote count.” Issue One wants to ensure that so loose a system — very prone to out-of-state special interests, of which the abortion lobby and Planned Parenthood is one with very deep pockets — cannot be manipulated.
The year 2023 is a year very open to manipulation. Why? Because it’s an off year, where very few states are voting. Out-of-state money can thus readily be concentrated on a few key battlegrounds. For pro-lifers (and pro-abortionists), it’s the Ohio referendum and electing the majority of the Virginia Legislature.
It’s not just pro-lifers who support Issue One. Many other groups, concerned about how narrow interests can use I&R amendments to ramrod their agendas, support a “yes” vote. One pro-abortion group is calling this a “monumental” opportunity to reverse pro-life gains in Ohio (and probably much of the Midwest).
Right now, Ohio bans abortions after 22 weeks (i.e., 5-1/2 months) of pregnancy. The Governor signed a bill to ban abortion after the heartbeat of the unborn can be detected, but it’s tied up in the Ohio courts.
Issue One is being voted on in the middle of the summer, when few people even expect a vote to occur. It’s important for pro-lifers to turn out massively next Tuesday. Know anybody in Ohio? Share this essay with them.