Republicans, perhaps coming to terms with the unpopularity of their antiabortion agenda, seem to be grasping for a new playbook. Republicans in Ohio want to make it harder to amend the state constitution via ballot initiative, which abortion advocates say is a blatant attempt to block voter-driven efforts to enshrine reproductive protections in state rights.
“Ohio’s constitution has been far too susceptible to efforts by outside groups and special interests seeking to alter the people’s constitution to achieve their own ends,” Republican state representative Brian Stewart said, according to The Columbus Dispatch. With the backing of Frank LaRose, the Republican Ohio secretary of state, Stewart has introduced a resolution that would require a supermajority of Ohioans, 60%—as opposed to the current threshold of 50% plus one vote—to change the state constitution.
The push comes on the heels of several successful ballot measure initiatives protecting abortion rights. Voters in Michigan and Vermont enshrined abortion rights into their states’ constitutions. Californians went further, extending constitutional protections to include contraceptives. Even in the red states of Montana and Kentucky, voters shot down ballot initiatives that would have eroded abortion protections. Over the summer, Kansans, too, resoundingly voted against a measure that would’ve done the same.
LaRose denied that his proposal is about abortion, according to the Dispatch, saying, “If somebody thinks that their favorite issue is not capable of mustering a 60% vote, then maybe they should think twice about proposing that as a constitutional amendment.” Stewart added that the resolution’s intention is to keep “special interests” who “buy their way onto the statewide ballot” at bay. Somewhat ironically, the higher 60% threshold would not apply to the passage of this proposed amendment, which would also need to be put in front of the people in order to be enacted.
The Fairness Project, an organization that backs progressive ballot measures, was quick to condemn the effort. “Let’s be clear about what this announcement means: Ohio Republicans are planning a power grab next year in order to diminish voters’ power at the ballot box,” executive director Kelly Hall said in a statement. “They know voters don’t agree with them on the issues, so they are changing the rules of the game.”
Even LaRose’s own statement regarding the supermajority proposal arguably belies the claim that the current threshold has left Ohio susceptible to the grip of special interests. As he noted, of the 16 petition-based amendments that have been proposed in the state since 2000, only five have passed. And abortion is a particularly controversial issue in the Buckeye state. Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, signed one of the strictest abortion bans in 2019, which went into effect when Roe v. Wade fell. A so-called heartbeat bill, it makes abortion illegal after about six-weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, but has since been blocked by the courts. According to the Dispatch, abortion rights advocates in the state are currently debating whether to put the issue on the ballot in 2023 or 2024. Ohio became a flash point in the abortion debate shortly after the fall of Roe when, in light of the ban’s severity, a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to cross the state line into Indiana to receive an abortion. Hall called out “extremist officials in Ohio” for “wasting no time to shut down the ballot measure process as a path for voters to ensure their reproductive freedom.”
Republicans this year did put forth similar supermajority proposals to the one LaRose and Stewart are pushing, in Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota, trying to pass supermajority thresholds for ballot measures. They failed. In Arizona, however, a 60% threshold for ballot measures did pass.