August special election sought
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said state House members who don’t support putting a constitutional amendment on an Aug. 8 ballot will face “consequences” for their decision.
The amendment would be to raise the threshold for future proposed amendments — to get at least 60 percent of the vote for approval.
“I think that members who choose not to support this will have consequences for that, meaning the voters will hold them accountable because there are a lot of Ohioans who want to see this done,” LaRose said during a Wednesday interview.
“They should carefully consider that. So that’s going to be up to the speaker and the members of the Legislature, the House in particular, if they can muster the 60 votes that are needed to do this.”
The Republican-controlled state Senate approved two bills on April 19 to put the 60-percent threshold constitutional amendment on the Aug. 8 ballot, and another to establish an Aug. 8 election as the Legislature eliminated virtually all special August elections in a vote in December.
The House, which also is controlled by Republicans, has held off on voting for the two bills.
House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, initially said he was “not for changing the rules willy-nilly at a whim when it comes to changing our constitution.” But after receiving pressure from fellow Republicans to put the measure up for a vote, Stephens said “that is always a possibility.”
Asked what he thought the state House would do, LaRose said, “Predicting what the Ohio House of Representatives can and cannot do currently is a pretty risky endeavor so I’m not going to make a prediction. I certainly hope they will act.”
May 10 is the deadline to get the amendment on the ballot.
“As long as they give us the time and resources, our highly professional, talented election administrators in 88 counties will do what they always do and deliver another free and fair election,” LaRose said.
Some Republican legislators say there’s urgency to get the measure on the ballot to increase the approval of constitutional amendments from a simple majority to at least 60 percent because supporters of an abortion rights amendment are collecting signatures for the November ballot. Increasing the threshold would make it more difficult for constitutional amendments to be enacted.
“This is about so much more than abortion,” LaRose said. “I’m pro-life and I don’t believe we should have abortion in our constitution. But that’s just one of many issues arguing why this should be done.”
A special election would cost about $20 million.
Asked about waiting until the Nov. 7 general election to put the issue in front of voters, LaRose said, “I can’t speak for (the Legislature), but the thinking is no time like the present because there’s currently an effort” to “put something in the constitution that doesn’t belong there. Obviously, some folks want to make this all about abortion. I don’t think abortion belongs in the state constitution. But it’s not exclusively about that because the next thing coming down the line is minimum wage. There’s a group trying to put that in the constitution.
“It may be prescription drug prices again or it may be medical marijuana that people want to put in the constitution. I would argue that none of those things belong in the constitution and certainly you shouldn’t be allowed to do it with a bare majority of 50 percent plus one,” he said.
LaRose said he backed the elimination of virtually all August special elections because they “fly below the radar. When it’s a school levy or a parks district levy or a sewer district levy, you can see where people could say that. There will not be an opportunity to be unaware of the fact that there is a statewide constitutional question on the ballot. There will be potentially millions of dollars for it, millions of dollars against it, great reporting by the press.”
LaRose said, “Unless you choose to ignore it and live in a cave, there will not be any Ohioan by August who won’t be aware that there is a constitutional question on the ballot if the Legislature chooses to do that.”
LaRose said any argument that “this was a change or a flip-flop (by me) is false” as he opposes August elections “as a regular course of business.”
The only time there was a statewide constitutional amendment for consideration on an August ballot in Ohio was 97 years ago.
While LaRose points out that most states don’t permit citizen initiatives to change constitutions, he opposes eliminating them in Ohio, but wants to increase the threshold for approval.
Meanwhile, the upcoming primary is the first time Ohio will be enacting a new election law that requires specific types of photo identifications to vote in person.
Forms of ID that were acceptable in past elections that are no longer valid include bank statements, utility bills, pay stubs, government checks or the last four digits of a person’s Social Security number.
To vote, a person needs one of the following: a driver’s license, a state ID card, a passport, a passport card or a military ID. The state ID cards can be obtained at no cost to residents,
But those who requested absentee ballots by mail could use either their driver’s license ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number to vote.
The new policy has drawn criticism from various groups including military veterans, out-of-state college students and senior citizens concerned they won’t be permitted to vote.
LaRose said the law wasn’t designed to suppress voting and was meant to ensure the integrity of elections. It is easy to vote and hard to cheat in Ohio elections, LaRose said.
“We can always make things better,” he said. “Over 70 percent of voters support that people should prove their identification when they vote. Responding to what Ohioans support is smart business.”