Based on information compiled by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on constitutional amendments and a list from Ohio Citizen Action that includes initiated statutes and referendums, voters could have the busiest November, in terms of deciding statewide issues, since 1975.
Husted’s list goes back to 1913; Ohio Citizen Action’s, to 1950.
Using that data, the two biggest years for statewide issues on a November ballot were 1953, when nine constitutional amendments were placed there by the legislature, and 1975, when four amendments made it by petition and five by legislative action.
This fall, if petition circulators can knock on enough doors and ambush enough shoppers, as many as nine issues could make it to the statewide ballot.
That assumes the group Freedom to Marry Ohio will wait until 2013 for a vote on an amendment to repeal an amendment banning same-sex marriage, which passed in 2004.
The count also assumes that there will be two amendments to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
What else? At this point, voters will face a referendum on House Bill 194, a controversial elections bill that passed last year. Also headed for the ballot is an issue calling for a constitutional convention. That question is put to Ohio voters every 20 years; they’ve said “no” every time since 1912.
What else? There could be amendments that define a “person” as any human at any stage of development, starting with fertilization; prevent workers from being forced to join a union; provide funding for clean energy projects; and create a citizens commission for drawing legislative and congressional boundaries.
Petitions are also being circulated for a citizen-initiated statute that would prohibit dog auctions.
If all this sounds like an awful lot to consider, along with presidential candidates and candidates running for Congress, the state legislature and local offices, not to mention local issues, just be glad you don’t live in California. There, 66 statewide ballot issues are circulating.
Still, the number of possible statewide issues in Ohio and the subjects they concern are a signal that all is not well with the democratic process here.
In 1953 and 1975, hot-button social issues were nowhere to be seen on the ballot. Many amendments were technical. In 1953, all nine passed, dealing with, among other topics, adjusting the compensation to soldiers who fought in World War I and eliminating obsolete language about women holding public office.
For excitement, there was a $500 million bond issue for highways and an amendment creating the State Board of Education.
In 1975, only three amendments passed, all backed by the legislature. They dealt with rotating spots for candidates on the ballot, electing delegates to national conventions and regulating bingo and other charitable gaming. The rest dealt with financial matters such as bond issues, tax abatements and property valuations.
A lot can happen between now and the July 4 deadline to collect signatures for initiated constitutional amendments or statutes. Organizations circulating petitions can run out of money or volunteers, or have their message lost in the clutter.
The referendum on House Bill 194 has met the signature requirement, but the legislature is considering a repeal that would make the issue a moot point, perhaps even removing it from the ballot. A repeal of a law headed for a referendum would be unprecedented in Ohio, according to legislators who have researched the matter.
What stands out about the possible issues this year is how divisive they are, a symptom of a deeply divided legislature. In such a polarized atmosphere, taking an issue to the statewide ballot becomes the preferred alternative to reaching across the aisle to reach a compromise.
Rather than tackle real issues, the temptation is just to stir things up. In 2004, the amendment that banned same-sex marriage was widely credited with helping boost Republican turnout, helping George W. Bush to a re-election victory.
As the issues are lining up this year, they could cancel each other out, conservatives showing up to support the “personhood” amendment and right-to-work initiative, and liberals to kill voting laws they view as restrictive, and, while they are at it, help clean energy projects, partially decriminalize marijuana and take the job of creating legislative and congressional districts out of the hands of politicians.
The dog auction issue? Let’s just say that dog won’t hunt.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.