Two viewpoints of governance at odds in Issue 1 debate


LIMA — It is a single issue that will be on the ballot on Aug. 8, but that one issue will affect how Ohio citizens interact with the state’s Constitution going forward. Will Ohio’s central legal document be subject to the collective will of a simple majority of voting citizens or to three-fifths of it?

The question around Issue 1 revolves around how amendments are enshrined into the Constitution. For the past 111 years, that process has involved creating a petition and obtaining signatures of 10% of electors that voted in the previous gubernatorial election in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, with the total number representing at least 5% of eligible voters overall. Once ratified, the proposed amendment would go before the voters, with a simple majority of 50% plus one required to add the amendment to the Constitution.

If passed, this amendment would change future amendment petitions to require the same portion of signatories from all 88 counties in order to get on the ballot, and 60 percent of voters would have to approve the measure for the amendment to be added. Additionally, a 10-day period currently in place for petitioners to obtain any additional signatures needed in the event that the submitted signatures are insufficient would be eliminated should this issue pass.

For proponents of Issue 1, including Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, the issue is about ensuring that only issues on which the vast majority of Ohioans agree are placed in the Constitution, which supersedes any legislative action at the Statehouse in Columbus. By making the amendment process easier and not harder, Gonidakis said, the door is open for outside interests to peddle their influence to enshrine their views.

“Ohio is one of only nine states that allows for a simple majority, but we’re one of the biggest,” he said. “We’ve got cities like Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and we’re a Midwestern state, a test market state. People bring their products here to see if it sells, and out-of-state special interests say, ‘Hey, a big market. Let’s go put a few bucks in and change the Constitution to get what we want.’”

Gonidakis pointed to the amendments that permitted casino gambling as one example.

Those opposed to Issue 1, including Dennis Willard, speaking for One Person One Vote, an organization working to defeat this issue, maintain that special interest groups would actually benefit from its passage because of the expansion of required signatories from 44 counties represented to all 88 counties.

“This issue, if passed, would make it virtually impossible for voters to amend their own Constitution,” he said. “It doubles this already onerous effort so that it makes it almost impossible to put a constitutional issue on the ballot.”

Making it harder to amend the Constitution is the point, Gonidakis said, since the amendment process negates the regular legislative process of changing the law, the place where, he said, debates can take place over any issue, from abortion to gun control.

“I’m president of Ohio Right to Life, so the life issue is the number one issue to me,” he said. “I don’t believe abortion belongs in the state Constitution. It belongs at the Statehouse where we can regulate and debate it. I can go in, Planned Parenthood can go in, and we can go the podium and debate our issues and come up with a policy and plan.”

Willard maintained that this ballot option needs to be maintained for voters because Columbus politicians can often be out of touch with what the people want, and the people need to have that option to go around them, an option that has been used sensibly, he said, over the last century.

“Voters have been very wise and smart and judicious when it comes to amending the Constitution,” he said. “Only one out of every four constitutional amendments proposed in the last 111 years has passed. So three out of four had been rejected by voters. That’s not an abuse of the system.”

Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0391 or on Twitter @cmkelly419.

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