It absolutely is minority rule

The election that could determine the future of democracy in Ohio

An under-the-radar election in Ohio on Tuesday has quietly emerged as one of the most high-stakes stress tests for American democracy in recent years.

The question Ohio voters will decide on 8 August is simple: how easy should it be to amend the state constitution? Like 17 other states, Ohio allows citizens to place constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot if they get a certain number of signatures and more than 50% of the statewide vote. The process has been in place for more than a century in Ohio, and in November, voters will use it to decide whether to protect abortion rights.

In May, Republicans who control the state legislature abruptly sent a proposal to the ballot called Issue 1 that would make it much harder to change the constitution. If approved, a constitutional amendment would need 60% of the vote to pass instead of a simple majority. It would also make it significantly harder for citizens to even propose a constitutional amendment, requiring signatures from 5% of the voters in all of Ohio’s 88 counties (the state currently requires organizers to get signatures in 44).

“It absolutely is minority rule,” Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who served on the Ohio supreme court for nearly two decades and stepped down as chief justice at the end of last year, and opposes Issue 1, said in a telephone interview. “If you get 59.9% of a vote that says yes, 40.1% can say no. This is the way it’s gonna be. We can thwart the effort of the majority of Ohioans that vote. And that’s not American.”

The change in signature gathering would make it nearly impossible to get something on the ballot, which is already difficult, and only allow deep-pocketed groups to do so, said Jen Miller, the president of the Ohio chapter of the League of Women Voters, which opposes the amendment.

The campaign to raise the threshold has been largely funded by Richard Uihlein, an Illinois billionaire and GOP mega-donor who has spent more than $5m on the effort so far. A conservative non-profit backed by Uihlein, the Foundation for Government Accountability, has been involved in efforts to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments across the country.

Republicans have made little secret of why they’re in a rush to change the rules: this fall, Ohioans are set to vote on an amendment that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution. “This is 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution. The left wants to jam it in there this coming November,” the Ohio secretary of state, Frank LaRose, a Republican running for the US Senate and one of the most prominent supporters of the amendment, said last month.

Similar measures to protect abortion access have been extremely popular in other states and passed by wide margins after the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade last year.

Beyond reproductive rights, the August election has far-reaching implications for democracy in Ohio. Republicans hold a supermajority in the Ohio legislature after they manipulated district lines to their advantage last year, brazenly ignoring several rebukes from the state supreme court. Activists are already working to draft a constitutional amendment that would strip lawmakers of their redistricting authority entirely. But making it harder to change the constitution would essentially allow Republicans to keep their distorted advantage.

“Ohioans would no longer have a tool accessible to them to keep the Ohio government accountable when they are not acting in the interest of our communities and our families,” said Jen Miller, the president of the Ohio chapter of the League of Women Voters, which opposes Issue 1.

“What we’re talking about is that a small minority would be able to block the will of the majority of Ohioans.”

Read more at The Guardian