May 27, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Special Election Day is August 8. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. For in-person voting in Ohio, a photo ID is required.

By Faith Fistler reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration.

Since 1912, Ohioans have been able to change the state constitution with just over 50 percent of the vote. Passage of Issue 1 on the ballot Aug. 8 would increase the threshold to 60 percent. 

Supporters of Issue 1 think Ohio’s constitution will be protected from out-of-state special interests. While opponents worry that Issue 1 will take away citizen-driven ballot initiatives. 

“When you take in the grand scheme of things, and you understand that our maps are drawn unfairly, that we do not have fair representation at the statehouse, it makes things a lot more challenging in the state when people’s voices aren’t being heard directly because they are being silenced by lawmakers who gerrymandered their way into position,” said Kayla Griffin, a state director for All Voting is Local Action Ohio, an organization that focuses on the voting rights of communities who historically have been disenfranchised. These communities include young voters, low-income people, people of color, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas. 

If Issue 1 is passed, 5% of the eligible voters of each county would need to sign a petition establishing any initiative to change the constitution. Griffin said she worries that would make it harder for specific interests, like minimum wage, to appear on the ballot. This November, Ohio voters may be able to vote to increase the minimum wage to $10.50 in 2025 and $15 an hour by 2028.

“Minimum wage has not been brought up by our state lawmakers because they do not want to increase the earnings of our citizens here in the state,” she said. “And so that’s something that has gone to the ballot because we’re trying to make sure that everybody has a living wage in our state and we wanted to make sure that people have the right to advocate for themselves in order to get that.”

All Voting is Local Action Ohio is not focused on the issue of raising the minimum wage. Griffin just provided it as one example.

If Issue 1 succeeds, it would also be more difficult for a proposed abortion-rights initiative to pass this November.

Protect Our Constitution is a coalition of many groups that seek to defend Ohio’s constitution from outside special interests groups and are supporters of Issue 1. 

Spencer Gross, spokesperson for Protect Our Constitution, said Issue 1 adds more weight to the people’s vote. 

“This really brings Ohio more in line with other states to have a more traditional legislative process, and one that actually empowers people even more than allowing an outside special interest to come in and try to buy their policy in the state constitution,” Gross said. 

The groups argue that many issues protected by the state’s constitution should be under Ohio’s Revised Code. Some of these issues include casinos, livestock care standards and out-of-state investors who want to sell medical and recreational marijuana, Gross said. 

Protect Our Constitution has spread its message by utilizing their many partners in the business community, such as the Farm Bureau, Hotel and Lodging Association and the Ohio Restaurant Association.  

Gross also argues that the idea of raising the threshold is not a radical or new idea, but has been talked about in the statehouse for a while now. 

“It’s one that was actually endorsed by a group of bipartisan lawmakers,” he said “Just five years ago, there was a bill introduced in the state legislature by Republicans and Democrats to raise the threshold to 60% for passage of constitutional issues.” 

If Issue 1 passes, Gross said, the future of Ohio will be one with a stronger legislative process. 

“It’s one that protects the citizens from special interests who just simply want to buy their way into the Constitution rather than go through the legislative process, which you know receives a more thorough vetting,” he said. 

All Voting is Local is campaigning around different counties, putting on events and paying for advertisements to spread the word as to why people should vote no on Issue 1. Griffin said the response has been tremendous. 

“If we want to live in a state where we have the opportunity and the right to govern ourselves, then we should vote no,” she said. 

The League of Women Voters has been advocating against Issue 1 through media outreach and community events. The group is a nonpartisan political organization that works to educate voters and defend democracy. 

Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said Issue 1 takes power away from the citizens. 

“Again, Ohio voters have been using ballot initiatives to improve the daily lives of each of us in our 88 counties for over a century,” Miller said. “…When the state government is not acting in our best interest, we need to preserve majority rule, because we do not want to let a small minority of Ohio be able to block what a majority of Ohio voters want.” 

Issue 1 would only make it possible for people with strong financial backings to put something on the ballot, Miller said. A higher threshold would leave behind a majority of Ohio citizens and their interests. 

As election day approaches, Miller worries that not enough people are aware of the election in general, or that there is a strict photo I.D. policy in place or that there are schedule changes for absentee and early ballots. 

“Even though there’s only one issue on the ballot, voters cannot afford to sit this one out,” she said. “Because our very freedom to pass policies that benefit our lives when the Ohio government is not being responsive is at stake here.”

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.