by Logan Cook, staff writer
SEPTEMBER 2022 — Ohio citizens may not realize they possess the ability to place their own laws on statewide ballots. Citizens can exercise this ability via rights laid out in Article 2 of the Ohio Constitution.
The first sentence of Article 2 Section 1a of the Ohio Constitution reads, “The first aforestated power reserved by the people is designated the initiative, and the signatures of ten per centum of the electors shall be required upon a petition to propose an amendment to the constitution.”
If a citizen is to propose a law and gather signatures amounting to a certain percentage of the number of votes in the last gubernatorial election (elections relating to a state governor or their office), that law can be placed on a statewide ballot in the next election cycle. This is known as the Initiative Petition.
The goal of the Initiative Petition is to provide Ohio voters with the opportunity to bring issues that are important to them to the ballot, as opposed to only allowing the Ohio General Assembly to draft and approve laws. Constitutional amendments, whether proposed by the General Assembly or Initiative Petition will always go to ballot in Ohio.
Ohio General Assembly Legislators ratified the current state constitution in 1912, which included the current Article 2. Since then, via laws published in the Ohio Revised Code, the process to place an Initiative Petition on the ballot has been clarified.
According to Steven H. Steinglass of The Cleveland-Marshall Public Law Library, Ohio voters most recently passed one of these clarification laws in 2015, “[approving] an antimonopoly amendment that placed obstacles in the way of proposed initiated amendments that would create monopolies, specify or determine tax rates, or provide special benefits not generally available to others.”
For 110 years, no constitutional amendments have been approved to remove or weaken Article 2, maintaining Ohio citizens’ right to an Initiative Petition.
According to the Office of the Ohio Attorney General, via the office’s website, under current Ohio law, there are three types of a Initiative Petition: Initiated Constitutional Amendment to add to or modify a part of Ohio Constitution, Initiated Statute to add a statute to the Ohio Revised Code, and Referendum to repeal an existing (or section of) law. These processes are further outlined through multiple laws within Ohio Revised Code 3501-3519.
All Ohio government offices involved in the Initiative Petition process recommend that to begin the Initiative Petition process, an Ohio citizen first consult legal counsel. The citizen then must elect an Initiative Committee of three to five individuals to represent the petition in all matters relating to it. The committee will then write the proposed law and proposal summary.
Ohio Revised Code 3519.01(A) reads, “Only one proposal of law or constitutional amendment to be proposed by initiative petition shall be contained in an initiative petition to enable the voters to vote on that proposal separately.”
This section of Revised Code means any proposed law must introduce or modify only one existing section of the Ohio Constitution or Ohio Revised Code. The proposal summary must be a “fair and truthful statement” that clearly outlines the intent and purpose of the proposed law.
Once the Initiative Committee members have drafted the proposed law and summary, they must gather 1,000 signatures of qualified electors. Qualified electors are defined as any individual who is legally qualified to vote in the state of Ohio and is registered to do so.
Upon the signing of 1,000 qualified electors, the committee must send the signatures along with the proposed law and summary to the Office of the Ohio Attorney General.
Once the Attorney General has certified the proposal summary is a “fair and truthful statement” and the law only introduces or modifies only a signal section of the Ohio Constitution or Ohio Revised Code, the office will transfer the initiative to the Ohio Ballot Board. The ballot board must then certify the initiative based on the same criteria. The board has 10 days to do so.
The Ohio Attorney General, currently Dave Yost, is then responsible for transferring the initiative to the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State to be reviewed and, potentially, placed on a statewide ballot. Upon the Secretary of State receiving a copy of the initiative, the Initiative Committee can begin to collect the required number of signatures to have their initiative placed on the ballot.
The total number of signatures the committee must gather varies based on the type of Initiative Petition they are attempting to file. For initiatives directed towards constitutional amendments, 10% of the total numbers of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election are required in signatures. A referendum necessitates 6%, and a revised code statute mandates 3%.
“Signatures must be obtained from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties. From each of the 44 counties, signatures must equal at least 1.5% of votes cast for governor in that county in [the] previous election,” states the website of the Ohio Attorney General.
These guidelines apply to all three types of Initiative Petitions.
The Initiative Committee is required to submit all signatures in a single document, along with a $25 filing fee, to the Ohio Secretary of State no later than 125 days prior to the election to be put to the ballot. Once the Secretary of State has certified the signatures of the initiative, it will be passed back to the Ohio Ballot Board to construct the ballot language.
After the final certification by the Ohio Secretary of State and Ballot Board, the Initiative Committee may then write an argument of why the proposed law should be passed. This must be no more than 300 words. The Ohio General Assembly must designate individuals to write the argument against the proposed initiative. If either party fails to do so, the responsibility falls upon the Ohio Ballot Board.
“The proposed constitutional amendment together with the arguments and/or explanations must be published once a week for three consecutive weeks preceding the election, in at least one newspaper of general circulation in each county of the state, where a newspaper is published,” states the website of the Ohio Secretary of State.
Newspapers published across multiple counties are permitted to fulfill the requirement for every county it is published in.
Upon completion of all of the above listed criteria, the Ohio population votes on the initiative. If a majority of Ohio voters vote “Yes” on the initiative, marked on the ballot as “Issues,” the initiative will become law effective 30 days after the election.
Ohio is one of 18 states to have a right to a Citizens’ petition for constitutional amendments written into its constitution. In 31 other states, the only way for a constitutional amendment to be put to the voters is if the state legislature approves an amendment with a majority vote. However, 21 total states allow statutes to state law be proposed via citizen’s petition. Delaware is the only state to not require constitutional amendments be put to a statewide ballot.
“I don’t think it’s very well publicized [in Ohio],” said Bio-Med Science Academy’s 11th grade College, Career, and Civics and Integrated History teacher, Morgan Brunner. “I am very active in politics and political information and have not heard of it.”
The most recent certified Initiative Petition is to add Section 22 to Article I of the Ohio Constitution. Section 22 would be known as the Medical Right to Refuse. The initiative would write into the Ohio Constitution a citizen’s right to refuse any medical procedure and that no law in Ohio can require a citizen to undergo any medical procedure. The initiative was submitted on June 16, but failed to meet the July 26 deadline to submit the required amount of signatures to be placed on the Nov. 2022 ballot.
The Hive reached out to the University Of Akron Constitutional Law center, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, the Ohio Attorney General office, and the Ohio Secretary of State office but did not receive a response.