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LaRose says Ohio law banning most August special elections doesn't apply to state lawmakers

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters after the Ohio Ballot Board meeting to change the language on Issue 1 on June 13, 2023.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters after the Ohio Ballot Board meeting to change the language on Issue 1 on June 13, 2023.

Supporters and opponents of Issue 1, the amendment to make it harder to change the constitution, are waiting on a big Ohio Supreme Court decision. A lawsuit was filed last month over whether the August special election to decide Issue 1 is legal, or if lawmakers violated a law they passed just last year that eliminated nearly all August elections.

Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has pushed for Issue 1, the amendment that would require 60% voter approval for future constitutional changes. He's said Issue 1 is about stopping an abortion rights amendment this fall. In his filing in the lawsuit, he argued that House Bill 458, the law passed in December that banned most August special elections, didn’t apply to state lawmakers. He said the constitution gives legislators the power to set elections.

“No, I'm not arguing that 458 was unconstitutional, but it didn't apply to the circumstance," LaRose said. "458 was a smart piece of legislation that said that going forward, as a regular course of business every August, year after year, we're not going to have the opportunity for small, local taxing jurisdictions to hold elections. That's good public policy."

LaRose added: "Separate and apart from that, the state legislature has and always has had the ability to set the time, place and manner of elections. They chose to hold one in August. From an elections administration standpoint, running an election in August is a rather routine matter for us. We know how to do it. We did it just last year. And so in that sense, it's a smart time to hold a special election. If the state legislature chooses to do that, that's their choice."

LaRose had testified in favor of House Bill 458, and argues in his filing that if the court finds House Bill 458 conflicts with lawmakers’ authority to set an election, the law is unconstitutional.

He cited several precedents in his court filing that address laws that are found to be in conflict with the constitution. He wrote: "[E]ven if this Court finds that one of the Special Elections Statutes conflicts with the General Assembly’s constitutional authority to set the August 8, 2023 special election by a joint resolution, that statute must yield. A law that is incompatible with the Ohio Constitution is 'unconstitutional on its face.' "

While the Ohio Supreme Court hasn't ruled on this lawsuit, it did order the Ohio Ballot Board to write some new language for Issue 1 as a result of another lawsuit filed nearly two weeks earlier. That ruling might suggest the court will decide the August election can go forward.

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