LWV Ohio filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court supporting plaintiffs who argued the ballot language describing a proposed constitutional amendment restricting directly initiated constitutional amendments was illegally biased and misleading to voters.
Ohio’s constitution allows voters to directly amend the state constitution. Proponents of direct constitutional amendments must gather petition signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties, equal to 10% of the votes cast for governor in the last election. The number of signatures gathered from each county must equal at least 5% of the votes cast for governor in that county in the last election. The petitions are then sent to the secretary of state for verification. If there are insufficient petitions to qualify the amendment for the ballot, the petitioners are given 10 additional days to gather more signatures.
Once signatures are verified and found sufficient, the Ohio Ballot Board, chaired by the secretary of state and comprised of four appointees of the majority and minority leaders in both state legislative chambers, is tasked with drafting the title and language describing the proposed constitutional amendment. The amendment is then placed on the ballot and approved if a simple majority of voters vote for it.
On May 10, 2023, the Ohio legislature passed a draft constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR 2), which proposed several restrictions on Ohio voters’ ability to directly amend the state constitution. Under SJR 2, petition signatures for direct constitutional amendments must be gathered from all 88 counties in Ohio instead of the current minimum of 44 counties. Amendments that qualified for the ballot would pass only if 60% of voters voted in favor. Proponents of direct constitutional amendments must also gather signatures from at least 5% of all registered voters in each county. Finally, the 10-day period to gather additional petition signatures to cure insufficient petitions would be abolished. The legislature scheduled a special election to approve or reject SJR 2 for August 8, 2023. An attempt by the legislature to enact a law explicitly authorizing an August special election for SJR 2 failed to pass. One Person One Vote and several plaintiffs filed a separate lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court, seeking to have the August election declared illegal.
On May 23, 2023, One Person One Vote and several Ohio voters filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court, alleging the Ballot Board’s description and title prescribed for SJR 2 contained multiple misleading or incorrect statements, as follows:
- The description omitted important context by failing to state the current process for directly initiated constitutional amendments, which only requires petition signatures from 44 out of 88 counties and a simple majority threshold to pass constitutional amendments as opposed to SJR 2, which requires signatures from all 88 counties and a 60% supermajority vote to pass constitutional amendments.
- The title given to SJR 2, “Elevating the Standards to Qualify for an Initiated Constitutional Amendment and to Pass Any Constitutional Amendment” was illegally biased by implying that SJR 2 would be an improvement over the current process
- The description did not accurately state the number of signatures required from each individual county to qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot if SJR 2 passes.
The plaintiffs requested the court order the title and description to be rewritten or for the amendment’s exact text to be placed upon the ballot instead.
On May 30, 2023, the League of Women Voters of Ohio (“LWV Ohio”) filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. According to the brief, the ballot description’s failure to compare the current status quo with SJR 2’s changes, including its elimination of the 10-day cure period, the misleading title, and the August election, were deceptive and undermined the democratic process.
On June 12, 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling ordering the Ohio ballot board to reconvene and (1) write a new description accurately describing the number of signatures needed from each county to qualify an initiative petition for the ballot and (2) write a new title omitting the word ‘any.’ The court denied the remainder of the plaintiffs’ requested relief.
LWV Ohio was represented by the ACLU of Ohio in this matter.
Plaintiffs file lawsuit
Plaintiffs One Person One Vote, and three individuals file a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing the ballot description and title for SJR 2 were illegally biased and misleading.
LWV Ohio files amicus brief
LWV Ohio files an amicus brief supporting the plaintiff. The brief emphasizes that Ohio voters must be allowed to make an informed decision and that the ballot description is deceptive because of its omission of vital context and information.
Ohio Supreme Court issues opinion
The Ohio Supreme Court orders the Ohio ballot board to reconvene and (1) write a new description accurately describing the number of signatures needed from each county to qualify an initiative petition for the ballot and (2) write a new title omitting the word ‘any’. The court denied the remainder of the plaintiffs’ requested relief.