Cleveland State Law Dean Emeritus & Professor Emeritus Steven Steinglass, whose testimony before the Ohio House Constitutional Resolutions Committee in May in personal opposition to Issue 1 was published in Ohio Capital Journal, warns of the consequences of the ballot initiative and urges voters to “not to be swayed by a lot of the misleading pro-Issue 1 advertising and make a decision on their own.”
Issue 1 is a ballot initiative that seeks to end majority rule and raise the threshold for amending the state constitution to 60%. With Issue 1 being the lone issue on the ballot, snuck in by Ohio House Republicans in a spontaneous $20 million decision, the stakes of this August special election are unlike any other in state history.
Steinglass, whose academic work covers Ohio constitutional history, was surprised when he first learned about Issue 1 and its content.
“I was surprised because it seemed to me like a solution in search of a problem,” said Steinglass in an interview with The Cauldron. “An effort to throw away something we’ve had in Ohio for 111 years—the system of majority rule and proposed constitutional amendments that isn’t broken.”
Issue 1 Support
The focus of Issue 1 support, Steinglass observed, has to do with concern that the constitutional amendment process has been captured by “out-of-state special interests,” which he believes to be a mere campaign tagline.
“If you’re going to make what’s probably the most radical change in the history of the Ohio constitution, I think those proposing the change have the burden of demonstrating why it’s necessary, and I don’t think they’ve met that burden,” Steinglass told The Cauldron. “The notion that out-of-state special interests have or are about to capture the Ohio system, I don’t think has a basis in fact.”
Steinglass believes that gerrymandering and abortion are driving forces for Issue 1 sponsors in introducing the ballot initiative.
Ohio’s Constitutional History
In his testimony, Steinglass highlighted Ohio’s history of constitutional revision, including a large number of amendments that would have failed to pass in the 60% threshold scenario that Issue 1 sponsors seek to make a reality.
He explored the constitutional amendment process in different regions; 18 out of 50 states have a constitutional initiative in their amendment process, one of which being Ohio.
“If you look at the pattern, states in the midwest, far west are more likely to have it. I venture to say that those states are more democratic than some of their counterparts,” Steinglass said. “The eastern states have been very reluctant to open their process up and that’s not a good thing. The south has always been concerned about opening the process up to the people, because to open things up to the people, would probably mean they would have to open it up not only to white people, but people who aren’t white.”
Steinglass, in drawing these comparisons, asserted that Ohio’s existing amendment process should set an example for other states, not be changed so drastically with a measure such as Issue 1.
“We should go ahead and proselytize and get people to follow the Ohio model, not shrink away from our leadership role. We are not an outlier, we should be seen as a leader in this.”
When asked if he believes that Issue 1 is a result of a lack of understanding of the Ohio constitution and its history, Steinglass said no, and, instead, proposed that it’s a matter of personal interest:
“I don’t think it’s a lack of understanding, I think it’s a lack of respect for Ohio’s constitutional tradition and its history. I think the people involved in pushing Issue 1 are smart enough to understand what the reality is. I’m sorry to say, they don’t care. I think they sought short-term political advantages in moving the goal post.”
Misconceptions and Consequences
Much like in his testimony, Steinglass also shared that despite what lawmakers and sponsors of Issue 1 may think, Ohioans throughout history have not misused the constitutional amendment, and, rather, “have been careful, thoughtful, and judicious when they want to approve amendments, especially those from their fellow citizens.”
Only one-fourth of proposed constitutional amendments proposed by an initiative have been approved in Ohio constitutional history.
He also used his testimony as a platform for reminding lawmakers and citizens that Issue 1 would not only undercut the power of citizens in the amendment process but also that of our governing bodies.
“The proposal to increase the passing rate doesn’t apply only to initiated amendments by citizens, but also applies to amendments proposed by the general assembly,” Steinglass told The Cauldron. “So, one of the great ironies is that, in their rush to make this change, the proponents of Issue 1 will, in effect, hinder their own ability to play a positive role in governance.”
Steinglass cautions against such a major change to the constitution due to the uncertainty of the consequences. When asked about any potential consequences of Issue 1 being successfully adopted, he mentioned that statewide efforts to hinder gerrymandering and ensure reproductive rights would be undercut.
He also highlighted concerns with state debt and the ability to raise funds for bonds for improvements that would contribute to projects like conservation, job creation, housing and more.
This August special election has seen historically high voter turnout. By Wednesday, Aug. 2, over 530,000 Ohioans had voted by mail or in person since early voting began July 11. Steinglass considers this as an inability for the House to sneak the ballot initiative through.
“People have been energized. They see this as taking away something they’ve had, and whether you call it democracy or majority rule, your choice as to how to describe it,” said Steinglass. “Will we still have a democracy if this passes? Yeah, I think we will. I think it’ll still exist without it. Our job should be to tell other states that constitutional initiative is a good thing and they should think about adopting it. It certainly interferes with the system of majority rule that we have enjoyed in Ohio for 111 years when it comes to constitutional amendments.”
While Steinglass’ general message is to vote no, he ultimately advises voters to gather all the facts before taking to the polls without allowing any pro-Issue 1 advertising to prevent them from making their own decision.
“I hope voters who are paying attention get all the facts and make a decision that makes sense to them.”
Election Day is Aug. 8. Learn more about the election here.