In an effort to thwart abortion rights advocates and redistricting reformers, Republicans in the Ohio Senate approved a constitutional amendment on Wednesday that would make it harder for voters to pass their own amendments. The proposal still has to go before the full state House after Republicans passed it in committee there, though if it passes there as well, Ohioans will have the chance to weigh in on these new restrictions before they can become law.
However, Republicans are also trying to tilt the playing field in their favor by putting their amendment on the ballot in an August special election, when they hope turnout will be low. That election would take place ahead of a possible vote to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, which organizers are hoping to put before voters in November. If successful, the new Republican amendment would require a 60% supermajority to pass any future amendments, including the abortion measure—even though it would only take a simple majority to adopt the GOP's amendment.
And that's precisely their objective. Republicans have been explicit about their true motivations after a top sponsor was caught telling his colleagues that his amendment was squarely intended to block the abortion rights and redistricting reform proposals currently in the works. The abortion measure's proponents are already gathering signatures, while redistricting reform could appear on the ballot in November of next year, which threatens to deprive the GOP of the gerrymandered three-fifths supermajorities that they needed to put their amendment on the ballot in the first place.
Raising the threshold for passage is not the only new hurdle Republicans are trying to impose. They also want to make it more difficult for progressive measures to get on the ballot in the first place.
Ohio's ballot initiative process is already stacked against liberals because, in order to qualify amendments for the ballot, organizers must collect a certain number of signatures in half of the state's 88 counties in addition to the statewide total, which is 10% of the last vote for governor. Since Democrats are largely concentrated in several large urban counties, the "bluest" half of counties includes those that Donald Trump won by margins of up to 70-28, a landslide far larger than his 53-45 statewide victory.
The GOP's new amendment would raise this requirement to include all 88 counties, the reddest of which voted 83-15 for Trump, and it would also eliminate the 10-day grace period for initiative proponents to gather additional signatures if the amount they submit by the initial deadline falls short. However, the signature-gathering changes wouldn't come into effect until 2024 (Republicans fear it would be illegal to retroactively apply it to ongoing efforts).
GOP efforts to restrict ballot initiatives to prevent voters from using them to pass progressive policies and democracy reforms is a nationwide phenomenon: As we recently detailed, Republicans in at least nine other states are working on similar measures.
Fortunately for progressives and gerrymandering foes, there's a good chance that Ohioans will oppose the GOP's amendment. Voters resoundingly rejected Republican proposals to require 60% supermajorities for future initiatives last year in Arkansas and South Dakota, which are much redder than Ohio. And while Ohio Republicans are counting on low summertime turnout, a similar gambit in Kansas backfired in 2022 when Republicans there placed an amendment that would curb abortion rights on the August primary ballot. Voter participation set records and the measure went down to a 59-41 defeat.
It's never too early to start talking about the House! Joining us on this week's edition of The Downballot is Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin, who offers his thoughts on the overall playing field and a wide range of key contests. Jacob explains why Lauren Boebert might have an easier time of it in her likely rematch, how some candidates have a "special sauce" that allows them to keep winning difficult districts, and why he thinks Mary Peltola is favored for re-election despite Alaska's persistent red lean.