Our view: Desperate Ohio lawmakers ready to slap voters in the face to stop abortion vote

May 14, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Jes Stein, of Columbus, accompanied by two of her three sons, tells her abortion story to the over a thousand people who showed up in support of the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio "Ban Off Our Bodies" rally, at the Ohio Statehouse.
May 14, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Jes Stein, of Columbus, accompanied by two of her three sons, tells her abortion story to the over a thousand people who showed up in support of the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio "Ban Off Our Bodies" rally, at the Ohio Statehouse.
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A word sums up an effort led by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Senate President Matt Huffman, State Rep. Brian Stewart and others to steal a power Ohioans have enjoyed since 1912: undemocratic.

It is bad enough that the fear of voters casting ballots to ensure abortion rights in the state constitution driving officials elected to serve Ohioans to erode a 100-year-old right.

It is amazing that some Republicans in the Statehouse would push so hard to change how the state amends the constitution by forcing a vote during a low-turnout August election months after the same lawmakers voted that such elections should be limited. This entire effort slaps voters in the face and betrays our democracy.

Yet Senate and House resolutions are in play that would amend the state constitution to require 60% of voter approval for constitutional amendments instead of a simple majority.

An attempt to push similar legislation forward failed during December's lame duck session. These resolutions should fall on their faces too.

Why is this happening?

BrIan Stewart
BrIan Stewart

The House and Senate need a 60 percent affirmative vote to place the issue on the August ballot, giving LaRose, Huffman, Stewart and the rest the first part of what they need to get their way. Voters would still have the final say on whether the rules would change.

LaRose has said the changes are needed to protect Ohio's constitution from outside interest groups and "partisan groups are gearing up for constitutional warfare." But Huffman and Stewart are among those who have been blunt about the real reason Senate Joint Resolution 2 and House Joint Resolution 1 are being pushed —blocking a potential November ballot initiative to expand abortion access.

As with the 2022 Ohio redistricting battle, Huffman, LaRose and other Republicans want to change the rules to get what they want.

Nearly 68% of Ohioans who responded to a 2022 USA TODAY Network Ohio/Suffolk University poll indicated that they opposed Ohio banning abortion after cardiac activity is detected usually around six weeks.

How has Ohio used initiative petition to amend the constitution?

Putting the intense abortion debate aside, groups and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum have used Ohio's citizen-initiated statutes to move constitutional issues forward when lawmakers have not.

Recent examples include legalizing casino gambling in 2009, banning indoor smoking at workplaces in 2006 and defining marriage as between one man and one woman in 2004.

There is no reason to require a higher level of voter support just because voters might vote against the will of politicians on the abortion issue in November.

More: Joe Hallett commentary: Gay-marriage ban is bad for business, families

'Willy-nilly at a whim'

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens
Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens

Ohio's constitution is far too important to change during an August election.

House Speaker Jason Stephens seemingly gets that obvious point saying recently he is against the August election idea.

"Let me be abundantly clear. I am and have always been 100% Pro-Life. I will stand for life at every turn; however, I am not for changing the rules willy-nilly at a whim when it comes to changing our constitution," Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, tweeted March 24.

He indicated Wednesday that he might flip-flop, saying that an August election is a "possibility."

August elections involving constitutional amendments are virtually unheard of here.

The last time voters considered a constitutional amendment in August was way back in August of 1926. Ohioans are not accustomed to voting in August.

Last year's redistricting fiasco led to two primaries — one in May for U.S. Senate, Congress and statewide offices and one in August for the state lawmakers.  About 21% of Ohioans voted in May compared to less than 7% who voted in August.

While families are distracted with vacations and getting ready for kids to go back to school, Ohio Republicans want to push a major change to the way Ohio amends its constitution when nobody is paying attention. Putting this on the ballot in August during the dog days of summer with the goal of squashing the will of the people screams of desperation and voter suppression.

If Ohio leaders truly believe voters want this change to our constitution, then put it on the ballot during a general election when people turn out to vote.

More: How proposed changes to Ohio Constitution could impact abortion issue

Living in a cave?

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

It is particularly despicable and disappointing that LaRose, the officer charged with ensuring fair Ohio elections, pretends placing such a measure on an August ballot would be just.

"There will be very few people in the state not aware that there's a constitutional question on the ballot in August. You'd have to be in a cave to perhaps not realize that issue was there," he said during a recent press conference.

LaRose no doubt knows that's a dangerous and disingenuous statement.

Turnout in special elections is traditionally low even when important issues are on the ballot. Just last year LaRose said as much when he supported a new law that says local governments and school districts can only hold August elections when there is a fiscal emergency.

It is abhorrent that Ohio's lawmakers want to up the ante in how to change the state constitution and do it in such a cowardly manner — when they know people will not be paying attention. Politics is rarely fair, but democracy should never be a game.

LaRose, Huffman and the rest want to stack the deck against Ohio voters.

The basic rules of engagement shouldn't be changed just because they fit one political agenda or another. That's not democracy.

Keep the simple majority and if it must go to a vote, let Ohioans decide in November.

This piece was written by the Dispatch Opinion Editor Amelia Robinson on behalf of The Dispatch Editorial Board. Editorials are our board's fact-based assessment of issues of importance to the communities we serve. These are not the opinions of our reporting staff members, who strive for neutrality in their reporting.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Why would 'willy-nilly' August special election be a betrayal to Ohio voters?