Voters casting ballots. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
Bill, along with SJR 2 constitutional amendment bill, directly impact abortion rights ballot initiative
– Ohio Capital Journal
Less than half a year after proclaiming August elections to be too expensive for the turnout they attract, the Senate Republican majority expanded the use of a special election this year, complete with $20 million in funding.
“This is legislative whiplash, and we do it really well here in Columbus,” said state Sen. Kent Smith, D-Euclid.
In a mostly party-line vote, Senate Bill 92 was passed Wednesday by the body. The only Republican to vote against SB 92 was state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville.
The vote came immediately after the state senate also passed an increase in the threshold for passing a constitutional amendment from 50% to 60% along party lines.
The threshold bill, SJR 2, is a companion bill to HJR 1, which has been making its way through the Ohio House, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. The House resolution passed its committee after three hours of testimony on Wednesday, most of which spoke in opposition to the bill.
Both bills could lead to a ballot measure where voters would approve or deny a constitutional amendment to raise that threshold.
With the approval of SB 92, August special elections will now be held “for consideration of a General Assembly proposed constitutional amendment,” to fill a congressional vacancy or hold a special primary for congressional party candidates.
The bill also appropriates $20 million to conduct “a one-time August special election on August 8, 2023,” a funding influx made while the bill was in committee.
That August election would be to send a constitutional voter threshold to the ballot for voters to approve an legislature-initiated amendment to raise the threshold from 50% to 60%.
Republicans pushed back on comparisons between previous August elections, including last year’s that saw an abysmal 8% turnout, with the argument that this time around, voters will care.
“With this being a bonafide, statewide question, and with it being an important question … I would say the turnout is going to be markedly higher in this August election,” McColley told his colleagues on the Senate floor.
The legislative measures seem to be direct hits at a potential constitutional amendment that would codify abortion rights if it makes it to the ballot box and is approved by voters in November. Abortion rights advocates are currently collecting the needed signatures. State law currently requires more than 400,000 in 44 of the 88 states.
One of the pro-abortion rights groups helping with the ballot measure, Pro-Choice Ohio, called the passage of SB 92 “both expected and incredibly disappointing” in a post on Twitter.
Last year, after redistricting confusion rocked the legislature, Republicans all-but eliminated the August election in a move that they said would save the state money and get rid of an unneeded annual election date that historically had low voter turnout.
In August of last year, the special primary election included statehouse races because the redistricting maps were rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court before they could be included in the May election. A U.S. District Court then intervened in the legal snarl that swept up the redistricting process, and allowed the state to use a map previously deemed unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court as the map for the August primary.
That map is still in effect currently.
Speaking in opposition for SB 92, state Sen. William DeMora, D-Columbus, quoted Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose who spoke in support of reducing August special election usage last year, when he said they “aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials, voters or the civic health of our state.”
“(SB 92) is so bad that (LaRose) Secretary LaRose couldn’t even find the time to come and testify about it in committee,” DeMora said.
State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, said claims that the August special elections were eliminated last year was an exaggerated claim.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel on this legislation,” Gavarone said, pointing out that certain occasions allowed for an August special election.
SB 92 now moves to the House for consideration.