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Ohio Republicans continue pursuing plan to raise ballot amendment threshold

Ohio Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Asheville)
Ohio House
Ohio Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Asheville)

Ohio Republicans are still pursuing their plan to raise threshold for citizen-led ballot initiatives. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Asheville), defended the proposal Tuesday on WOSU's All Sides with Ann Fisher.

"We have a representative democracy here. We should be having these debates in the legislature, and not simply at the ballot box every two years," he said.

The amendment, first introduced by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose last November, would require a 60 percent supermajority for all future citizen-led ballot amendments. It would also require signatures from all 88 Ohio counties, instead of the current number of 44.

Stewart said special interest groups see Ohio's Constitution as an "easy mark" for advancing what he considers bad policy ideas. "We're talking now about ranked choice voting. We're talking about eliminating qualified immunity. We're talking about, I think, a fourth or fifth iteration of changing the way we do redistricting, and, obviously, social issues as well," Stewart said. "The point is for too long, Ohio's Constitution has been too susceptible to this."

A coalition of more than 140 voting rights and other groups oppose the proposal. Former Democratic state lawmaker and former Columbus Dispatch editor Mike Curtin said it could hurt future bond issues for schools, highways, housing and other infrastructure projects.

"There's a lot of work to do to clean up the Constitution, but raising the threshold to 60 percent would put Ohio in an extreme minority of states and would disrespect voters who have not abused their right to amend the Constitution," Curtin said Tuesday.

Getting a ballot initiative over the finish line is not easy, Curtain said, noting that of 71 citizen-led initiatives since 1913, just 19 of them have been approved.

When asked about his regard for Ohio voters considering their historical reluctance to alter the Constitution, Stewart replied, "Why should we have to go through this exercise and risk it every time? Why should we have to play chicken every two years with terrible policy proposals?"

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.