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Save the date: Ohio’s Aug. 8 election puts nearly 175 years of majority voter authority on the line




Hundreds of protesters against SJR 2, and its companion HJR 1, fill the rotunda before the Ohio House session, May 10, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

Save the date. Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Put it in your phone. Circle it on your calendar. Tack it to your fridge. Make sure everyone you know does the same. It’s an election day you can’t miss — if a  lawsuit before the Ohio Supreme Court doesn’t stop it first as an illegal maneuver by state Republican legislators. Hold that thought.

But barring an unfavorable ruling from a court stacked with Republican justices in sync with Republican lawmakers, mark down Aug. 8 so you don’t forget. The anti-democratic party lording over the Statehouse — and orchestrating an outrageous assault on we the people under the guise of “saving the constitution” — is betting you’ll forget.

Ohio Republicans know people aren’t thinking about voting in the middle of summer. They know that a little noticed special election in August, costing upwards of $20 million, with one issue on the ballot is practically guaranteed to be a long, boring day for poll workers serving a pittance of voters.

“It’s a waste of money,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank Larose, (before he changed his mind).

“I’ve wanted to eliminate August elections for my entire time as a public official,” said state Rep. Brian Stewart (before he sponsored a bill that just set an August election).

The Ashville Republican who once argued that summertime special elections generally exist “to let tax levies slip through without the support of anywhere near a majority of the populace” now campaigns to slip through a major change in the Ohio Constitution in August without the support of anywhere near a majority of the populace.

The state’s chief elections officer, who also argued that August elections are just used to “have a sneaky levy when nobody’s paying attention,” is now all for using one to have a sneaky anti-voter initiative when nobody’s paying attention. LaRose, who has lost all credibility as a straight shooter, is rushing to implement a devious GOP scheme to derail a grassroots movement struggling to make reproductive freedom a constitutional right in Ohio.

A legislative ballot initiative that would effectively crush the ability of Ohio citizens to amend their constitution — and hopefully scuttle a statewide vote to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution — is the explicit Republican objective. LaRose can’t wait to advance that agenda in a special election where “a handful of voters” could abolish a right Ohioans have enjoyed for over a century.

The issue state Republicans conspire to put on the Aug. 8 ballot basically asks us to give up the power of our majority vote and elevate minority rule in Ohio. It calls for immediately raising the winning threshold for a citizen-led constitutional amendment from a simple majority to a 60% supermajority.

That means 41% of voters could stop citizen ballot initiatives that 59% of Ohioans support. Abortion rights initiatives in other states have won solid majority backing under 60% of the vote. A solid majority of Ohioans believe abortion should be legal in the state but a minority of voters, under the Republican ballot proposal, could trump the opinion of over half of all voters.

Call it the tyranny of the minority over the will of most Ohio voters on abortion rights, on fair legislative districts, on commonsense gun safety, on minimum-wage increases, etc. LaRose and the legislative extremists he’s partnered with openly admit their plan is to thwart a likely pro-choice amendment on the November ballot with a preemptive legislative amendment to obliterate majority rule.

Their pretense of protecting the constitution from “outside special interests” has been exposed as a sham fueled by big money from outside special interests. Their on-the-fly move to hold a statewide election in August — after they outlawed nearly all of them just five months ago — has been challenged by opponents of the GOP travesty.

The lawsuit before the state supreme court maintains that legislators cannot legally hold a statewide election to decide a proposed constitutional amendment in August because the voting law Republicans passed in December doesn’t allow it. It only permits elections with such statewide ramifications to be held in November or the May or March primary.

But in the race to put their legislative initiative on a little-noticed August ballot, Republican legislators ran out of time to change the law to reauthorize constitutional amendments in special elections (when Ohioans are at the beach). So they just created their own exemption to the statute and folded it into a joint resolution ballot measure designed to prevent citizens from circumventing a corrupt legislature with popular constitutional amendments.

On Aug. 8, 2023, Ohio Republicans are gambling to gut direct democracy rights in the state. The same politicians who purged August elections because “holding the vote then is a way of gaming the system” to “get something passed with a low turnout” are doing exactly what they decried. They’re gaming the system to slide a profound power grab past a disengaged electorate.

But Ohio voters are not chumps and it was heartening that so many of them poured into the Statehouse to protest and be heard. People are watching. An observer opined that Ohio’s motto should be “Ohio, where democracy goes to die.” Not if a majority of Ohioans can help it.

Save the date. Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Make sure everyone you know does the same.

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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