Ohio’s Issue 1: Stricter Signature Rules For Constitutional Amendments
Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment on the August 8 ballot in Ohio that would (among other things) establish a 60% vote requirement to approve future amendments. Currently, amendments in Ohio require a simple majority.
Issue 1 would also make another change to Ohio’s ballot measure process—increasing the signature distribution requirements for citizen-initiated amendments.
A signature distribution requirement, also known as a geographic signature requirement, requires that initiative campaigns gather signatures from multiple political subdivisions—like counties or legislative districts—in order to qualify for the ballot.
Currently, Ohio requires citizen-initiative campaigns for constitutional amendments to collect signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in 44 of the state’s 88 counties. Overall, campaigns need to collect signatures equal to 10% of the votes cast for governor statewide, which is 413,487 signatures in 2023.
Under Issue 1, the distribution requirement would increase to 5% of the votes cast at the last gubernatorial election in each of the state’s 88 counties, rather than 44 of them. Increasing signature distribution requirements makes it harder to qualify a measure for the ballot.
Here’s how other states compare.
Sixteen of the 26 states—including Ohio—that allow citizen initiatives have signature distribution requirements:
- Seven states, including Ohio, have distribution requirements based on counties;
- Five states have distribution requirements based on state legislative districts
- Four states have distribution requirements based on congressional districts.
- Washington, D.C., as well as some cities, also have distribution requirements for local citizen initiatives, which are often based on ward districts.
If Issue 1 is approved, Ohio would become the only state to require campaigns to collect signatures from 100% of the state’s counties. Ohio’s 88 counties range in population from 12,565 in Vinton County to 1.32 million in Franklin County. Colorado and Nevada also have signature distribution requirements that require campaigns to gather signatures from each subdivision of the state. In Colorado, campaigns must collect signatures from each of the state’s 35 Senate districts. In Nevada, campaigns must collect signatures from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
The other states that have county-based signature distribution requirements are Arkansas, Maryland, Nebraska, and New Mexico.
Federal courts have struck down some county-based signature distribution requirements. For example, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that such requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause because they “vary drastically in the size of their population,” which can “dilute the vote of residents of densely populated counties.” However, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a county-based distribution requirement in Nebraska, ruling that the Equal Protection Clause does not apply to state ballot initiatives because they are a state-based process not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Ohio is located within the 6th Circuit’s jurisdiction.
Ohio is one of three states to take action on signature distribution requirements in 2023. In Arizona, the state legislature referred a constitutional amendment on distribution requirements to the ballot for November 2024. Arkansas increased its distribution requirement earlier this year, from 15 of 75 counties to 50 of 75 counties.
Produced in association with Ballotpedia
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