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Ohio House vote could send constitutional overhaul to voters

May 10, 2023, 8:43 AM | Updated: 9:04 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A single legislative vote is all that stands now between a proposal aimed at making it tougher to amend Ohio’s constitution and a statewide vote.

The politically fractured Ohio House has scheduled a vote Wednesday on a resolution that would ask voters to decide whether to raise the threshold for passing future amendments from the simple majority in place since 1912 to a 60% supermajority.

Backers’ immediate goal is to thwart a constitutional amendment headed toward November ballots that would enshrine abortion rights in Ohio’s constitution.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court Democratic-leaning Michigan or Republican-leaning Kentucky. But no vote has exceeded 60%.

AP VoteCast polling last year found 59% of Ohio voters say abortion should generally be legal.

Whether the resolution containing the 60% question has enough votes to clear the Republican-led House is yet to be seen. The chamber’s 32 Democrats all oppose the measure, and a number of Republicans also have raised various objections. A three-fifths majority of the 99-member House — 60 votes, if two vacancies are filled first — is required in order to place the question before voters.

Among maneuvers used to get the resolution past its GOP opposition was to remove language Tuesday that would have sent the question to an August ballot. Opponents of that strategy bristle at that fact that it was only in January that a new election law was signed eliminating most August special elections.

State Rep. Sharon Ray, who offered the amendment pushing the 60% question to Ohio’s next scheduled general or special election, said an August election would add “another level of complication” to the already tough job of local election workers.

“I made a promise to our board of elections,” the Republican said. “Remember, these are our neighbors and friends that work very hard to provide flawless elections for us — most of them volunteers, they get paid a mere stipend — and, I guess, I appreciate their sacrifice.”

Without the guarantee that the vote will be held in August, however, the resolution is unlikely to pass House muster, according to the person who’s leading the charge to muscle it through the chamber.

“Probably a significant amount of the support” would fall off in that case, said Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis, “because what people signed their name to — their family name to — was 60%-with-August election. And we wouldn’t want them to vote for something other than what they agreed to vote for in the first place.”

Gonidakis has gathered signed pledges for “yes” votes as part of a pressure campaign to get the measure passed. Ohio Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest anti-abortion group, has added the issue to its election-season scorecard, which determines lawmakers’ coveted “pro-life” records. The Buckeye Firearms Association has done the same thing with its “pro-gun” scorecard, as it promotes a 60% threshold as a way to fend off potential gun control constitutional amendments in the future.

Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens said he anticipates an amendment will be offered on the floor to reinsert the August election back into the resolution.

That would mark merely the latest twist in has died in the House, with representatives now contending it was never needed in the first place. Its sponsor, state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, testified that a tweak to existing law was needed in order for General Assembly-initiated constitutional amendments to appear on August ballots.

Stephens declined to guess whether that amendment on August elections — or the resolution itself — would pass, but he portrayed scheduling the vote as delivering on his promise to conservatives within his divided caucus.

“I think it’s important that we have deliberated and discussed this issue for some time now here in the House, because it is an important issue, because it is our constitution,” he told reporters Tuesday. He said there remained “more than a couple” ifs headed into the day.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo, whose caucus helped lift Stephens to his surprise speakership, expressed disappointment that the 60% vote was going forward. She said citizens have been “loud and clear” that they will defeat the issue, whether it appears on an August or November ballot.

“The problem is we’re going to create confusion, we’re going to create costs that now we’re going to push off to the counties and to our boards of elections in order to conduct that — and all to cater to extremists,” she said. “I ask the members of the majority party who I know are opposed to this, are you going to cave to extremists or are you going to stand with the people of Ohio?”

Opponents planned to continue their fight ahead of the scheduled vote. A broad coalition of voting rights, faith, labor, civil rights and community groups planned a massive protest ahead of Wednesday’s vote. It’s the second in a week. Every living ex-governor of the state, and both Republican and Democratic former attorneys general, also oppose the constitutional change, as does the Ohio Libertarian Party.

Representatives are expected to fill two House vacancies before voting on the resolution Wednesday, allowing the two new members to participate in the vote.

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Ohio House vote could send constitutional overhaul to voters