Last December, the Ohio General Assembly considered House Joint Resolution 6 (HJR 6). HJR 6 was a proposed constitutional amendment that would have raised the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments from 50% +1 to 60% of total votes cast.
Simply put, it was a direct attack on the 100+ year old tradition of Ohioans having a simple majority right to constitutional amendments.
Back in 1912, Ohioans changed the Ohio Constitution and implemented direct democracy provisions as a direct counter to legislative inaction. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt commented on the Ohio Constitutional Convention of that year specifically regarding this issue:
I believe in the initiative and the referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative. Here again I am concerned not with theories but with actual facts. If in any state the people are themselves satisfied with their present representative system, then it is of course their right to keep that system unchanged; and it is nobody’s business but theirs. But in actual practice it has been found in very many states that legislative bodies have not been responsive to the popular will. Therefore I believe that the state should provide for the possibility of direct popular action in order to make good such legislative failure.Teddy Roosevelt, 1912, Address at the Ohio Constitutional Convention
Direct democracy is a tradition in Ohio. The act of gathering signatures for an issue we care about—then placing that issue on the ballot—it’s fundamental to how our democracy works. And Ohioans don’t pass constitutional amendments lightly. In fact, many constitutional amendments fail once on the ballot.
Yet HJR 6 proposed increasing the passing threshold to allow a minority of Ohioan voters, whenever a vote failed to reach the 60% threshold, to control what goes into our Ohio Constitution.
Fortunately, HJR 6 did not make it onto the House Floor in December.
Unfortunately, it has been reintroduced in the 135th Ohio General Assembly as House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR 1).
HJR 1 proposes the same change as HJR 6—increasing the threshold for constitutional amendments to pass up to 60%. However, HJR 1 makes another change, and it’s significant.
Right now, when Ohioans want to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, they must acquire signatures equal to 5% of the population that voted in the last governor’s election in at least 44 counties across Ohio. That requirement supplements the need to gather a number of signatures equal to 10% of the population that voted in the last governor’s election. HJR 1 would require signature gathering efforts to gather that 5% signature requirement from all 88 counties.
These changes to Ohio’s constitutional amendment process are specifically designed to make direct democracy more difficult. They do not come with any changes to make it easier for Ohioans to gather signatures, to streamline the process for proposing initiated statutes instead of constitutional amendments, or any proposals that enhance direct democracy in any way.
The sole goal of HJR 1 is to limit the power of Ohioans to determine their own fate at the ballot.
At the Ohio Environmental Council, we know we cannot ensure a healthy environment without a healthy democracy. HJR 1 is about keeping the power out of the hands of the people. It is bad policy. It will not help create a healthy democracy. And thus, it will not help create a healthy environment.