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Ohio State Issue 1 is a sucker punch to the face of majority voter rule and democracy

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Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks alongside state Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) to introduce a constitutional amendment requiring a 60% supermajority for all future citizen-led ballot amendments. (Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.)

If (and it’s a big if) there is a silver lining in State Issue 1 — the democracy-killing ballot initiative Ohio Republicans hope will end our right to amend our constitution by majority vote — it’s that enraged voters may finally wake up to the looming danger of having no rights before it’s too late.

At this most critical juncture in our state between the survival of self-rule in Ohio and total subjugation by one-party tyranny, we will decide the way forward. We are one special election away from essentially losing the only recourse ordinary Ohioans have had since 1912 to circumvent an out-of-control legislature.

The essence of our democracy is majority rule: Binding decisions made by a vote of more than one-half of all persons who participate in an election. Tyranny by minority over majority is barred under our constitutional government. But not under State Issue 1.

The Republican measure on the Aug. 8 ballot mandates it. Minority rule over the majority. Binding decisions made by less than half of all persons voting in an election — regardless of what a majority of voters say.

It is a seismic sucker punch to the democratic way simply to eliminate the threat that a majority of Ohioans might pose to the fanatical, right-wing agenda at the Statehouse.

For example, a citizen ballot initiative to establish an explicit right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution is headed for a statewide vote in November. It is a direct rebuke of the abortion ban that legislative extremists want to reinstate as a favor to their fundamentalist pals in the anti-choice movement.

They make no bones about their ultimate mission to subvert the abortion initiative with State Issue 1. Ohio Republicans do not want a majority of Ohio voters to get in their way on forced birth dictates, or lawless gerrymandering, or rock-bottom minimum wage, or limitless gun rights.

They do not want citizens leading a grassroots revolt against their unpopular policy with proposed amendments to the constitution that are widely supported by voters. Ohio Republican want control.

So they came up with a transparently disingenuous ploy to “protect” the constitution from  supposedly indiscriminate amendments being pushed by outside interests with big money — presumably like State Issue 1 is being pushed by outside interests with big money. Ironically, the same partisans bleating about “saving” our constitution are simultaneously shrugging it off as irrelevant to their unconstitutional gerrymandering.

To recap, Ohio Republicans who are still defying two voter-approved constitutional amendments mandating fair, competitive legislative and congressional district maps are now trying to make it harder for voters to approve constitutional amendments at all and asking for your approval to make it happen on Aug. 8.

They want you to give away your (111-year-old) right as an Ohioan to propose and pass an amendment to the constitution by a simple majority (50%-plus-1) for a higher supermajority (60%) threshold for passage. They want you to vote yes on doubling the amount of signatures (from 44 to all 88 counties) needed to even put a proposal on the ballot and on getting rid of a 10-day period to gather additional signatures if petitions fall short of the required number.

They want to make you irrelevant in their autocracy with impossible barriers to change.

Anyone who has ever tried to clear all the hurdles necessary to bring an issue to the ballot and to amend the state constitution by winning a majority vote statewide knows what an enormously difficult mission it is for any grassroots group to undertake, let alone achieve. It’s why so few citizen-initiated amendments have made it into the Ohio Constitution over the last couple decades.

But Ohio Republicans concocted a ruse to overrun a proposal to enshrine reproductive freedom in the state constitution — because they know the issue would likely pass with a majority of Ohio voters. They said so. But now they’re pretending a purely protective motive to guard the sanctity of the constitution for the greater good.

Nobody with half a brain in the state buys that bull. But a ton of dark money from outside Ohio will no doubt recast the brazen power grab by state authoritarians as a necessary solution to a nonexistent problem. It’s already distorting the campaign to kill self-governance as a rescue from “radical” takeover.

This is dirty play at its worst. Ohio politicians elected to serve the people want to rob them of their voice in the middle of summer when it’ll be easier to kill democracy because no one paying attention.

They are moving the goal posts mid-game precisely to thwart a proposed amendment to keep abortion legal in the state. Again, they said so. 

It is abundantly clear that absolute power has absolutely corrupted one party rule in Ohio. State Issue 1, which effectively destroys the ability of people to petition their government for change — the way Ohioans have done for over a century — is the rank culmination of that crookedness.

The danger is real. Stay angry and save the date, Aug. 8, 2023.


Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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