Ohio Supreme Court Allows August Special Election Over Proposed Anti-Democratic Amendment

WASHINGTON, D.C. On Friday, June 16, the Ohio Supreme Court — in a 4-3 party line decision — declined to block to an August special election over a proposed anti-democratic amendment to the Ohio Constitution. Specifically, the proposed amendment — if approved by Ohio voters in an Aug. 8, 2023 special election — would increase the threshold to pass constitutional amendments from 50% to 60%, thereby hampering efforts to enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution and limit partisan gerrymandering.  

As a result of this decision, the Aug. 8, 2023 election regarding the anti-democratic proposal — which was authorized by the Ohio Legislature in Senate Joint Resolution 2 — will take place as planned. 

The decision from the court’s Republican majority comes after Ohio voters and One Person One Vote filed a petition against Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) alleging that the August special election called by S.J.R. 2 violates Ohio law. 

The petitioners argued that the “General Assembly’s attempt to put the Amendment before the people in a low-turnout August special election is unlawful” since Ohio law prescribes an “unambiguous schedule” for elections. Specifically, the petitioners asserted that Ohio law limits special elections on constitutional amendments, such as those authorized by S.J.R. 2, to take place either during general elections in November or during primary elections in March or May — but not in August. 

In fact, the Ohio Legislature explicitly banned August elections (except in very limited circumstances) in its omnibus election law that was enacted earlier this year. Ironically, the Legislature did so at the behest of LaRose who stated that “August special elections generate chronically low turnout because voters aren’t expecting an election to occur. This is bad news for the civic health of our state.”

In today’s opinion rejecting the petitioners’ request to prohibit LaRose from holding the special election on Aug. 8, 2023, the majority held that the “special election called by the General Assembly in S.J.R. 2 is constitutionally valid.” The majority concluded that the “special election is authorized by Article XVI, Section 1 of the Ohio Constitution, and the secretary is therefore authorized to proceed with it.” 

In an emphatic dissent, Justice Michael Donnelly (D) noted that the “General Assembly could have easily made any number of changes to Ohio election laws to allow for its proposed special election.” He continued: “But rather than changing the law, the General Assembly and…Secretary of State Frank LaRose, want to be told that the Ohio Constitution allows the General Assembly to break its own laws. Rather than doing the work themselves, they want this court to fix their mess and do their work for them. Sadly, a majority of this court obliges.”

On Aug. 8, 2023, Ohio voters will determine whether the threshold to pass constitutional amendments will increase from 50% to 60%. Ohio voters can get additional information about the Aug. 8 special election here.

Read the opinion here.

Learn more about the case here.