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Ohio Republicans plan for August election on 60% voter approval amendment, despite lawsuit threat

Newly elected House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill, left) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) talk in the House chambers during a break on January 3, 2023, the first day of the 135th General Assembly.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) talk in between sessions on the first day of the 135th General Assembly on January 4, 2023.

Now that state lawmakers have agreed to put on the August ballot a measure to require 60% voter approval to amend Ohio’s constitution, Republican state officials are proceeding with plans for it.

But with opponents saying they're considering a lawsuit, one GOP leader is leaving the door open for another date for the vote on the issue before a reproductive rights amendment could be on the ballot this fall.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) dismissed questions about the constitutionality of adding Aug.8 to the resolution as the date for the statewide vote on it, though state law has eliminated most August special elections.

Huffman said that date was chosen because it's been on the elections calendar, but said state lawmakers can choose a new date if needed.

“We could pick Sept. 15th. And I'm not sure that that would make people feel better. They wouldn't be saying, 'I thought you got rid of August special elections.' Well, not really. Not all of them," Huffman said. "Any date we could pick if we wanted to."

Resolutions for constitutional amendments from state lawmakers include dates on which those amendments will be voted on by Ohioans. But an expert in the Ohio Constitution has said this situation is different.

Cleveland State College of Law dean emeritus Steven Steinglass, who co-authored the book "The Ohio Constitution: A Reference Guide," said adding the August special election date in the resolution brings together "two distinct legal instruments that cannot be combined." He said it's effectively trying to overturn the state law that eliminated most August special elections, which can only be done with another law, not a resolution.

But Huffman and House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) have said they're confident the resolution is on firm legal footing.

"Our legal team has put together and looked at the resolution and feels like it is a solid resolution that should be able to withstand any legal challenge," Stephens said after the vote.

For weeks, pro-choice groups have been gathering signatures to place a reproductive rights amendment on the November ballot. Republicans have acknowledged they want the 60% threshold in place before voters see that amendment.

The language of the 60% approval amendment must still be approved by the Ballot Board. But Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has directed boards of elections to get ready for the Aug. 8 vote, and said in his directive that the state will bear the entire cost of the election.

Lawmakers have suggested they're prepared to appropriate around $20 million, but the total could be less.

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Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.