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Ohio Supreme Court Orders Changes to Ballot Measure Rules

Abortion is sure to be a big issue in the 2024 elections. Various referenda and citizen initiatives about it are going to be on the ballot in numerous states. In 2022, the pro-choice position won in all six states where it was on the ballot. Ohio Republicans sense what is coming and they don't like the handwriting on the wall. So they want to head off the ballot measures at the pass.

Specifically, the Ohio legislature has put a measure on the August 2023 special election ballot that would make it harder for citizen initiatives to amend the state Constitution because they are afraid one in 2024 will propose changing the state Constitution to enshrine the right to an abortion in it. Currently, it takes a 50% + 1 vote to change the Constitution. The August measure, if approved, would raise the bar to 60% + 1, making it much harder for citizen initiatives to win. The August measure, called State Issue 1, would also make collecting signatures more difficult. Clearly the legislators think the people should butt out and do what their betters tell them and not try to override them.

If the measure clearly stated that what it does is raise the threshold to make it harder for citizen-initiated measures to pass, it might be rejected, so the legislators wrote it in a misleading way so many voters won't understand what it actually does. To their surprise and dismay, the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the language of the August measure was misleading and had to be changed.

The group that sued the state, One Person One Vote, didn't get everything it wanted, but is still hailing the ruling as a victory. A spokesman for the group said: "The language politicians and special interests wanted on our ballots for Issue 1 was full of lies. We're glad the Ohio Supreme Court saw through the deception and ordered changes. Ohioans must know: Issue 1 was designed to trick voters into giving away their rights—and the special interests who bought the August 8 special election will stop at nothing to end 100 years of majority rule in Ohio." The special interests in this case consist of the Republicans in the state legislature, not some dark money group.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who chairs the five-member Ohio Ballot Board, said he would convene the group to rewrite the measure in accordance with the Court ruling. He clearly didn't like the idea, but he said he will go along with it.

Ohio isn't the only state trying to block citizen initiatives. Many Republican-controlled states absolutely do not want abortion measures on the ballot and will move heaven and earth to keep them off. Not only do they offer a way for the voters to overrule the legislature, but their mere presence on the ballot tends to drive up Democratic turnout. Consequently, there are efforts in many states to make it harder to get measures on the ballot in the first place, even though ballot measures are a unique part of American democracy and have been for more than a century. (V)

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