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Ohio voters decide if state law should be changed on bail and non-citizen voting

Sign for bail bonds services in Columbus.
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Sign for bail bonds services in Columbus.

Voters will see two statewide issues in the November election which were placed on the Ohio ballot by state legislators through two joint resolutions, passed by a Republican-majority and with support from some Democratic lawmakers.

Issue 1 would allow judges to consider public safety when setting the amount for cash bail and it would also remove the Ohio Supreme Court’s authority to set the rules on bail.

Republican lawmakers moved to put this constitutional amendment, HJR2, on the ballot after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that judges are not allowed to consider public safety when determining bail.

Issue 1 allows judges to consider public safety when determining bail

Joe Deters, Republican Hamilton County prosecutor, said the supreme court ruling reversed course on what Ohio judges had already been doing.

“It caused chaos in Hamilton County and throughout the state. And judges were saying, ‘hey, I can't help it, this is what the supreme court said,'” Deters said.

Deters wants people to vote “yes” on Issue 1, as well as Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, who made a rare appearance in a House committee to testify for the resolution in March.

"By sending unambiguous language to Ohioans that public safety and other considerations must be included when determining bail, Ohioans can definitively instruct the court with their votes about their desire for public safety to be restored to the bail analysis," said Yost.

Opponents who want voters to say “no” on Issue 1 say it’s not that simple.

A collection of liberal and conservative groups has been working on reforming Ohio’s bail system.

They say judges already have the ability to keep someone behind bars if they pose a threat to society, which is a preventative detention hearing.

Patrick Higgins with the ACLU of Ohio said the cash element should only be used to make sure the accused comes back for their court date.

“What's incorrect, and what's been kind of the status quo, and what folks have been relying on, is setting cash bail on an amount that is so high a person could never hope to obtain it. We think that's unjust and unfair because it limits who gets to go home based upon the size of their bank account,” Higgins said.

Robert Alt, president and CEO of The Buckeye Institute, has been advocating along with the ACLU for state lawmakers to expand the use of pretrial detention hearings in order to keep dangerous people in jail. He said relying on a high bail bill is flawed.

"It's simply bad policy to allow violent criminals, violent offenders to buy their way out of jail. If people are a threat to the community then they should be detained pre-trial,” Alt said.

Both Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and Democratic challenger Nan Whaley said they will vote yes on Issue 1.

It comes as courts have been moving to consider non-cash bail options for defendants. It’s estimated 60% of those in Ohio jails are there because they can’t afford bail, as they risk losing jobs, child custody and even housing while behind bars.

But Deters said he doubts that, and would gladly help non-violent first-time offenders who can’t afford bail.

Issue 2 reinforces voter qualifications

Issue 2 would include language in the state constitution that reinforces the qualifications to vote, with an emphasis on making sure that non-U.S. citizens cannot participate in elections.

The issue came up when the village of Yellow Springs tried to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Republican Representative Bill Seitz says more and more cities around the country are attempting the same thing.

“These bad coastal ideas have a way of bubbling their way into the heartland unless we act,” said Seitz.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, stopped that effort by Yellow Springs. Along with the existing laws in the state constitution, LaRose said it adds a logistical burden.

“You essentially have to set up a parallel and separate system of elections within your county board of elections, a separate voter registration list, a separate set of voting machines, a separate set of ballots that only had those local candidates,” LaRose said.

The constitution already lays out that voters are U.S. citizens, 18 and older, who follow certain residency requirements.

Issue 2 language, drafted by HJR4, says “No person who lacks those qualifications shall be permitted to vote at any state or local election held in this state.”

Opponents said they’re worried that might interfere with 17-year-olds who are allowed to vote early and in primaries as long as they turn 18 by Election Day.

Rep. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) wants people to vote “no” on Issue 2, saying that it’s unfair to non-citizens who contribute in other ways to their community and to local governments who wants autonomy on how they conduct elections.

“The argument here is based on the ability for a local community that wants to welcome non-citizens to their communities and have them to be contributing members of their communities to vote on local issues,” said Skindell

Issue 1 and Issue 2 were both sponsored by Republican lawmakers. Most Democratic legislators were against both issues however, every Democratic senator supported Issue 2.

Contact Andy at achow@statehousenews.org.