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Fate of August election in court's hands

Dan Konik
Statehouse News Bureau

The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on whether or not voters will get a chance to decide to make it harder to change the state's constitution.

On this week's episode of Snollygoster, Ohio's politics podcast from WOSU, hosts Mike Thompson and Steve Brown discuss what is at stake.

Court Order

The state Supreme Court is considering whether the legislature can schedule a special election in August through its joint resolution process, just months after it passed a state law making such August elections illegal.

The court is also reviewing the language of the proposed amendment, which would require a 60% majority to pass future amendments. It would also require petitioners to gather signatures from all 88 Ohio counties, not just half of the counties as required now.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the abortion amendment expected to appear on the ballot in November is a single issue, guaranteeing reproductive rights in the constitution. It rejected claims that abortion should be separated from other reproductive health procedures.

Had the court ruled that abortion is a separate issue, supporters of the amendment would have had to start over from scratch, collecting signatures for separate amendments.

Early voting begins shortly, so the court's decision is expected soon.

The court is now composed of four Republicans and three Democrats. This would suggest that the court would favor the election to make it harder to guarantee abortion rights. However, there are justices on the court who may not like the way the legislature is doing it.

Most observers believe that Pat Fischer, a Republican, is the justice to watch. He could provide the swing vote. Fischer is a strict constitutionalist who believes strongly in due process. Observers say he may not look kindly on the legislature's move to make August elections illegal and then a few months later try to use an August vote to change the state's foundational document.

Fischer would face little political consequence for breaking with his party on this issue. His term is not up until 2028, and that's when he must retire.

Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy may also take the less controversial path. She is a moderate Republican who has been known to break with her party on occasion.

LaRose Redux

In an interview with WOSU, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that he supports a plan to make it harder to change the state constitution. He said that this is about protecting the constitution and that anything that changes the very foundation of our state should have a 60% vote.

However, at a Seneca County event held 10 days before the interview, LaRose told supporters that the plan is "100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of the constitution."

The director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio called LaRose's comments shameful.

LaRose's spokesman defended the secretary's comments, saying that he was simply stating his position on the issue. He said that LaRose believes that the constitution should not be changed lightly.

Snollygoster of the week

Supporters of an amendment that would require a 60% majority to pass future constitutional amendments have admitted that there is a mistake in the ballot language.

The ballot language says that signature gatherers must collect at least 5% of eligible voters in each county. However, the amendment itself says that signature gatherers must collect at least 5% of the ballots cast in each county during the most recent election for governor.

There is a big difference between the number of registered voters in a county and those who vote in an election for governor. For example, in Cuyahoga County, there are over 1.3 million registered voters, but only about 600,000 people voted in the most recent election for governor.

Supporters of the amendment say that the error in the ballot language is immaterial and won't matter anyway. They say that voters will know the issue anyway because of all the publicity it is getting.

If you have a suggestion for our "Snollygoster of the Week" award, a question or a comment, send them to snollygoster@wosu.org.