Common Cause Ohio Testimony Against HJR1 & SJR2
Opposition Testimony to Senate Joint Resolution 2
Ohio House Constitutional Resolutions Committee
Mia Lewis, Common Cause Ohio
May 1, 2023
Chair Plummer, Vice Chair Hillyer, Ranking Member Mohamed, and members of the Constitutional Resolutions Committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I am the associate director of Common Cause Ohio, an organization committed to open and accountable government that serves the public interest.
For a while now, the idea of changing the Ohio Constitution to make it harder to get citizen-led initiatives on the ballot and harder for them to pass has been discussed and debated across the state. This committee has heard (and refused to hear) a lot of knowledgeable and considered testimony in opposition to HJR1. SJR2 is now all but identical.
You’ve read the op-eds by the historians. You’ve read the editorials by newspapers as diverse as the Lima News and the Columbus Dispatch. You’ve seen the hearing rooms packed with citizens from across the state. You’ve heard a unanimous opinion from four past governors–two Democrats and two Republicans. You’ve read an opposition letter from 240 organizations and counting representing the voices of millions of Ohioans.
You’ve been reminded about Ohio’s Constitutional Convention in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, and the important deliberations made over months that gave Ohioans our legacy of direct access to the ballot.
You’ve heard that since then, Ohioans from across the political spectrum have used this right to improve our state–for example, term limits in 1992, minimum wage in 2006, and victims’ rights in 2017.
You know now how difficult it is to get an issue on the ballot: hence, only a handful of citizen-led initiatives have made it onto the ballot in the last 20 years.
You’ve heard the facts showing that these ballot measures are not overused: There has not been a citizen initiative on the ballot since 2018. Over the past 10 years, there were only four elections with ballot measures through signature collection. In the past 50 years, there were 28 years without a citizen initiative on the ballot. Of those elections that had a ballot measure, only a handful of the elections had more than one issue for voters to consider.
Ohio voters are thoughtful about changes to the Ohio Constitution. Since 1913, the first year of implementation of the constitutional initiative, through 2017, Ohioans have voted on 71 citizen-initiated constitutional initiatives. Of these 71, 19 have been approved, for a passage ratio of 27%.
You have heard the testimony confirming that this kind of change would not protect us from special interests–quite the opposite! These changes could permanently lock out grassroots groups since ONLY special interests would have the resources to collect in all 88 counties, ESPECIALLY without a cure period.
You’ve heard testimony from former state Representative and Ohio political historian Mike Curtin and so now you fully understand that comparing the pass rates needed to change the US and Ohio Constitutions is a red herring.
And you’ve heard numerous times that subverting the original intent of the 1912 amendment that gave Ohioans direct access to the ballot is the exact opposite of “protecting the Constitution.” Pushing through this amendment in a special, special election in August is the tell: While there could be better turnout than usual, allowing 50% of perhaps 8 or 10% of voters this August to permanently change the Ohio Constitution and cement in place minority rule is the very opposite of “protection”–it is a grievous harm.
Indeed, one by one, the arguments put forward by sponsors of both HJR1 and SJR2 have been refuted and definitely proven false.
Now that these arguments have been thoroughly put to rest, the only remaining question is why, WHY, are you pushing forward with this idea – why now, after 111 years of direct democracy working as intended? Not just pushing forward, but rushing forward helter skelter, against all common sense and propriety?
Could the answer have anything to do with a certain Illinois billionaire who said “Jump”?
Or could it have to do with political pressure from a specific group of Christian conservatives with an agenda that does not match up with that of the majority of Ohioans?
You’ve heard all of this by now. But here we are.
If you insist on going ahead regardless, everyone knows you are doing so in direct opposition to what most Ohioans want. You are doing so because you don’t want a check on the state legislature’s power. You are doing so for political expediency or because a billionaire in Illinois is more important to you than millions of Ohioans.
The further you push down this road, the more anger you are stirring up. Ohioans are not stupid. They get the connection between what’s happening in November and your rush for August. They will not be shy to show you what they think. As has been said before–the Ohio that will show up in August is not the Ohio you imagine it to be.
Opposition Testimony to House Joint Resolution 1
Ohio House Constitutional Resolutions Committee
Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio
April 19, 2023
Chair Plummer, Vice Chair Hillyer, Ranking Member Mohamed, and esteemed members of the Constitutional Resolutions Committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I am the executive director of Common Cause Ohio and we are committed to open and accountable government that serves the public interest. That’s why we have worked so hard over the years to establish fair rules for creating voting districts and why we and many others have turned toward citizen initiatives when the state legislature failed to act.
Since 1912, Ohioans from across the political spectrum have utilized the right to amend our Constitution via the petition process. Direct democracy gives voters the ability to make a real impact and has helped engage Ohioans in the political process. There is no justifiable reason, after over 100 years, to make this already challenging process even harder.
Citizen initiatives are not overused. There hasn’t been a citizen initiated ballot measure before voters since 2018. The last successful citizen-led ballot measure focused on victims’ rights and was on the ballot in 2017. Over the past 10 years, there were only four elections with ballot measures through signature collection. In the past 50 years, there were 28 years without a citizen initiative on the ballot. Of those elections that had a ballot measure, only a handful of the elections had more than one issue for voters to consider.
This is in part due to how difficult it is for Ohioans to collect enough signatures and place a proposal on the ballot for voters to consider. I am a strong proponent of direct democracy and I have been involved in citizen initiatives to place redistricting reform on the ballot. I was the chair of Voters First an effort in 2012 and the chair of Fair Districts = Fair Elections in 2017.
House Joint Resolution 1 moves the bar for county requirements– 5% of the gubernatorial voter– from 44 to 88 counties. The current requirement is adequate to ensure that there is support for measures from all over the state. All 88 counties would be a true obstacle for citizen groups.
The elimination of the “cure period” in HJR 1 is simply unreasonable. Ballot campaigns do their best to validate the signatures but it’s extremely challenging. The Board of Elections work in bipartisan pairs to confirm signatures and there can be a miss match. Removing these additional days to collect adequate signatures can only be viewed as an attempt to eliminate a right that Ohioans have had for more than 100 years.
Ohio voters are cautious about amending the Ohio Constitution. In the past 20 years, voters approved only 36% of citizen-led ballot measures. The last time that more than one citizen-initiated change to the Ohio Constitution was approved at the same time was in 1992.
There are already protections in place to address concerns about monopolies, the Ohio Initiated Monopolies Amendment of 2015. These changes to the Ohio Constitution were passed by Ohio voters to address concerns about wealthy interests abusing the process.
Requiring a 60% supermajority to pass ballot measures breaks the intention and balance of the Ohio Constitution. This higher threshold thwarts the tradition of majority rule and will likely have the opposite of the sponsor’s desired effect: it will make it almost impossible for anyone except big money special interests to pass ballot measures in Ohio successfully.
I urge you to oppose House Joint Resolution 1. Thank you for this opportunity to share my concerns with you.
Opposition Testimony to Senate Joint Resolution 2
Senate General Government Committee
Mia Lewis, Common Cause Ohio
April 18, 2023
Chair Rulli, Vice Chair Schuring, Ranking Member DeMora, and members of the General Government Committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I am the associate director of Common Cause Ohio. For over 50 years Common Cause has advocated for an open and accountable government that serves the public interest.
In our democratic republic, Teddy Roosevelt explained, we delegate power to you, our elected representatives, to do the work of legislating so that we can improve society. But sometimes, when perhaps you are not listening to the people, it is necessary and proper for Ohio voters to take their concerns directly to the ballot. “Direct Democracy” lets the people speak when the legislature would silence them.
Roosevelt said to Ohio’s Constitutional Convention in 1912: “I protest against any theory that would make of the constitution a means of thwarting instead of securing the absolute right of the people to rule themselves.” SJR2 would do just that–thwart the absolute right of the people to govern themselves–and that’s why, in order preserve the purpose and intent of our Constitution, you must vote no.
Since the outcome of that Convention in 1912, Ohioans from across the political spectrum have used the petition process to amend our Constitution. Used but not abused. Citizen initiatives are not overly common–nor could they be: the process is burdensome, arduous and taxing. Trust me, no one starts an initiative campaign just for the heck of it.
We are not suffering through a deluge of frivolous, ill-intentioned or pernicious ballot measures. Quite the contrary. There hasn’t been a citizen initiated measure on the ballot since 2018. Over the past 10 years, there were only four elections with ballot measures through signature collection. Plus, as you recall, in 2015, voters added protections to make sure that the initiative process could not be abused by wealthy interests.
So, what exactly is the problem? After 111 years of a process working as it should, why is there a sudden urgency to fix something that isn’t broken? Citizen-led initiatives allow the people to speak. SJR2 is evidence you don’t want to hear what they have to say.
Ohioans from all sides of the political spectrum are looking at the effort to make it almost impossible for citizens to pass a ballot initiative and they know something just doesn’t add up.
- One red flag is the professed concern for the Constitution contrasted with the rush to make a drastic change without full and considered debate.
- Another is the jarring contradiction of saying the Ohio Constitution should only be changed by a super majority–then pushing to put the question on the ballot in an election that might draw less than ten percent of voters.
- Finally, we all have whiplash after the head-spinning about-face over August Special elections. It’s just embarrassing. Just a few months ago Secretary LaRose stated, “These unnecessary ‘off-cycle’ elections aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials or the civic health of our state. It’s time for them to go!” Now, $20 million is not too much to create an August Special this year for this ONE issue that could easily and more appropriately be placed on the ballot at a time when more voters would weigh in.
The people of Ohio see the contradictions and it causes them to lose confidence in this body. It just doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Changing the pass rate from 50%+1 to a supermajority of 60% will not keep the Ohio Constitution safe from monied interest–quite the opposite: it will make it almost impossible for anyone except big money special interests to successfully pass a ballot initiative in Ohio.
Most importantly, moving away from one person, one vote isn’t protection for our Constitution, it’s an injury: No one, on any side of the political spectrum, wants to live under minority rule. Our Constitution is the very document that should protect us from the prospect of a minority of voters being able to thwart the will of the majority.
I urge you to take a stand against minority rule. Please protect our Ohio Constitution and oppose Senate Joint Resolution 2. Thank you for this opportunity to share my concerns with you.