Taking Issue with Issue 1
By A.J. Wagner
There’s a bit of a surprise on your voting ballot this fall. Even if you’ve paid attention to all of the election ads, and read all of the election coverage you can get your weary eyes on, you may have missed Issue 1, a vote on whether a constitutional convention should be convened in Ohio.
No particular group is advocating for this issue to pass or fail because no particular group asked for this to be placed on the ballot. The last constitutional convention occurred one hundred years ago in 1912. It must have been fun. The constitution was updated then to say, at Article XVI, Section 3: “At the general election to be held in the year one thousand nine hundred and thirty-two, and in each twentieth year thereafter, the question: ‘Shall there be a convention to revise, alter, or amend the constitution[,]’ shall be submitted to the electors of the state; and in case a majority of the electors, voting for and against the calling of a convention, shall decide in favor of a convention, the General Assembly, at its next session, shall provide, by law, for the election of delegates, and the assembling of such convention, as is provided in the preceding section; but no amendment of this constitution, agreed upon by any convention assembled in pursuance of this article, shall take effect, until the same shall have been submitted to the electors of the state, and adopted by a majority of those voting thereon.”
So, the citizens of Ohio have had four other chances to call for a convention in 1932, 1952, 1972 and 1992 and four times voters have rejected the idea. That is a good thing.
A constitutional convention seems like much mischief. It is an opportunity for lobbyists, legislators, interest groups, partisans, businesses, advocacy organizations and others to rewrite our basic laws to conform to their wishes. A convention would be a Tea Party from all sides.
To be sure, Ohio’s Constitution has sections that need to be changed. Issue 2 on the ballot addresses one such issue – the manner in which we redraw voting districts. But, the fact that Issue 2 is on the ballot is proof that we don’t need a complete overhaul just because a few items deserve a second look.
There are other ways to change our Constitution without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The General Assembly, by a three-fifths vote of each house, may propose amendments to be voted upon by citizens.
Voters can also petition for constitutional amendments to be placed on the ballot. Almost every other year we see multiple constitutional issues on the ballot. In the past few years we have banned same-sex marriage and allowed gambling through such amendments.
The twenty-year review isn’t a bad idea, but few, if any, citizens will review the Ohio Constitution before heading out to the polls, so it is hard to imagine they see a need for revision. A review, however, is taking place.
The Ohio General Assembly has formed a Constitutional Modernization-Commission to suggest improvements to our most important governing document. The commission has 12 legislators, six each from the House and Senate, divided evenly among Democrats and Republicans. These legislative members chose another 20 members from among applicants statewide. This commission will review the Constitution and make recommendations, by a two-thirds vote, for change to the General Assembly every two years.
We should see the results of this new commission by the end of this year. Once the recommendations have been received, both the House and the Senate will review the suggested changes. Each body must approve the changes by a three-fifths margin. If approved, the matter then goes to the ballot for a majority vote by the citizens.
Back in 1971 a similar commission was created which resulted in a few good changes, including reducing the voting age in Ohio to 18 and requiring the governor and lieutenant governor to run together on the same ticket. There were other suggested changes that didn’t make it through the rigorous process.
The new commission may take up redistricting if it fails next week (but they may not, so vote for it), term limits and the winner-take-all electoral college in Ohio’s presidential elections. These are items which may be a tough sell, but exploration is merited.
If you care to read the Ohio Constitution, you may find and make several other suggestions for the Commission to consider, but at least there won’t be a free-for-all as there would be in a constitutional convention. I have a few suggestions of my own, not the least of which is to eliminate the need to put the question of a constitutional convention on the ballot every twenty years. There are, already, better ways to improve Ohio’s Constitution.
Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein.
A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.