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August vote on 60% voter approval for Ohio constitutional amendments appears dead for now

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) speaks to reporters after session on March 1, 2023.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) speaks to reporters after session on March 1, 2023.

The Republican-backed plan to put a proposal requiring 60% voter approval for constitutional amendments before voters in a special election in August may be dead, since the Republican House Speaker says he’s not interested in doing that.

Two Republican senators introduced a bill to bring back an August special election to allow for votes on constitutional amendments, but only those proposed by state lawmakers. But House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) noted a law passed last year eliminated August elections under most circumstances, because they generate little turnout but high costs.

“We just voted to not have those anymore just a few months ago," Stephens said, referring to HB 458, which will also require voter photo ID and limit counties to a single ballot drop box when it goes into effect April 7. "And the county election officials I've talked to are not interested in having it. I'm frankly not interested in having an election in August."

When asked if that means if the bill to create the August special election wouldn't make it through the House if it passes the Senate, Stephens replied: "Well, I certainly wouldn't be for it."

Senate Bill 92, from Sens. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), would have set up a special election in August in certain circumstances, including "for the purpose of submitting a statewide ballot issue to the voters under Section 1 of Article XVI, Ohio Constitution." That section deals with amendments proposed by the General Assembly, not by citizens or groups. So it appears an August vote would only be for amendments from state lawmakers, which would include the 60% voter approval for amendments that's in HJR 1.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) had hinted on Tuesday that a bill on an August special election to pass the constitutional amendment changes proposal was coming, saying, "there are a lot of special elections that we have, whether it's for Congress...and things like that. So I think that's a possibility that that could be placed on in a special election in August."

The 60% voter approval requirement would potentially make it harder to pass any constitutional change, including a reproductive rights amendment planned for the November ballot.

HJR 1's sponsor Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) dismissed concerns about the timing of the change to constitutional amendments, though a letter he wrote in December clearly states that the change is needed because "the Left intends to write abortion on demand into Ohio’s Constitution" and "Democrats now intend to rewrite Ohio’s Constitution to put (now-retired Republican Chief Justice) Maureen O’Connor and other unelected liberals in charge of drawing legislative districts".

A coalition of abortion rights supporters are gathering signatures that amendment, after getting the go-ahead from the attorney general and the Ohio Ballot Board. A lawsuit has been filed in the Ohio Supreme Court over the Ballot Board's decision to keep the amendment as a single issue, but no dates have been set in that case.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.