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Ohio Ballot Board sued over proposed constitutional amendment language

The Ballot Board meets at the Ohio Statehouse on May 18, 2023.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The Ballot Board meets at the Ohio Statehouse on May 18, 2023.

Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment that could be put before Ohio voters in a special Aug. 8 election have sued the Ohio Ballot Board over the language voters would see when voting on the measure.

The lawsuit, filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, contends the board's chosen language that will be visible on ballots could confuse and mislead voters. The coalition filing the suit, One Person, One Vote, is asking the court to force the ballot board back to the table to come up with different summary language.

Dennis Willard, spokesman for the coalition, One Person, One Vote, said the language the Republican-dominated ballot board chose is "misleading, prejudicial and inaccurate."

"The average voter should be able to walk into the voting booth and read the language and understand what it changes and what it does not. And this ballot board language is deceptive, misleading and lacks context," Willard said.

The suit contends "the ballot language does not make it clear that the 60% threshold to adopt amendments is a change from the current simple majority requirement." It goes on to say, "As a consequence, a voter might take the ballot language to mean the people of Ohio do not presently get to vote on proposed amendments at all, and might even understand the amendment itself to create that right in the first instance."

Secretary of State takes issue with criticism of ballot language

After the ballot board meeting last week where the language was approved, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose defended the language by saying, "Putting a ton of words on the actual ballot is confusing to people in and of itself."

"So, we provided an explanation of what is changing. We didn't provide an explanation of the way it currently is. We provide an explanation of what would be new if this were to pass, and we believe that it is going to be sufficient and again gives a clear explanation in as few words as possible, but a clear explanation in a way that a voter can read and understand exactly what they're voting for, which it what the law requires," LaRose said.

The coalition opposing the amendment already has another lawsuit pending with the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court.

That suit contends the amendment includes illegal language to establish an August election, especially since a law passed by the legislature last year got rid of most special August elections. There hasn't been an actual piece of legislation passed to change that, so the lawsuit contends the August election itself is illegal.

The majority of Republican lawmakers who are opposed to a possible abortion amendment want to get their proposed amendment passed by voters and in place before that expected November ballot issue so that it would be harder to pass it. There's no word on when or whether the Supreme Court will rule on that case, but it could happen as early as next week since it involves a pending elections issue.

The Ohio Association of Elections Officials has come out strongly against the proposed August election and some counties are finding it difficult to get poll workers to staff it.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.