Ballot issues have become familiar to Ohio voters in the last couple years, but one man is seeking to make them a less common occurrence.
Republican state Rep. Niraj Antani believes out-of-state groups are abusing the process in Ohio and wants to raise the threshold, both for the requirements to get on the ballot as well as the votes needed to pass.
“We just had the election where both Issue 2 and Issue 1 were out-of-state special interests coming into Ohio and trying to buy our ballot,” Antani, an Ohio State alum, said. “Honestly, I’m sick and tired of it and I think we need to do something.”
Antani’s proposal, a joint resolution in the Ohio House of Representatives, would raise the number of signatures required to get an issue on the ballot by 25 percent, would ban groups from hiring workers to gather signatures and would require 60 percent of the vote to pass.
He said out-of-state interests are bringing their money to Ohio because it is one of the most favorable options.
“Ohio is one of the easiest states to get on the ballot,” Antani said. “[Out-of-state groups] go to the places where they can access the ballots the easiest.”
Ann Henkener, a lobbyist for the Columbus Metropolitan League of Women Voters, said while the constitutional process is overused, Antani’s proposed changes are too radical.
“The Constitutional Modernization Commission had looked at that issue and had come up with some much more sensible proposals that would make the statutory initiative process easier, and the constitutional process would not be changed as much,” Henkener said.
A joint committee in the General Assembly, the Constitutional Modernization Commission, was created in 2011 with the goal of analyzing Ohio’s constitution to possibly identify areas in which it could be improved. The committee, which had the ability to recommend constitutional changes, was disbanded in June due to an amendment in the state budget.
In Ohio’s history, 12 statutes have made the ballot by petition process, with three passing. But in the last 20 years, 17 constitutional amendments have been proposed through the petition process, with five passing.
Henkener, who noted the league’s board had not officially voted on the matter but generally opposes proposals that make the process more difficult, said the solution is not to make it harder for citizens to get constitutional proposals on the ballot. Instead, she said it is to make it easier to get statutory issues on the ballot.
“I testified in front of the Constitutional Modernization Commission, and one of the things that they recognized, and we recognized, was that the constitutional process is probably overused and the statutory process might therefore be a little underused,” Henkener said.
Antani, who said the Ohio Chamber of Commerce is supportive of his proposal, is clear about the goal of his proposed changes.
“The goal is for this to be the end of ballot issues funded by out-of-state special interests, I make no bones about that,” Antani said. “You can still do the initiative process, we’re just trying to stop these out-of-state special interests.”
Henkener said while out-of-state entities might be able to get involved, it still came down to Ohio voters.
“It has to get passed by the Ohio voters and in order to get on the ballot you need Ohioans to sign the initiative petition,” blank said. “It has to have a lot of input, including passage, from the Ohio voters.”
Whether Antani’s proposal becomes law is yet to be seen as it winds its way through the legislative process, but it has the potential to change the Ohio ballot for years to come.