Hot button issues all fall short of ballot

Ohio’s November ballots were slated to be filled with hot button issues-same-sex marriage, clean energy and marijuana, to name a few-but now activists across the issues are regrouping for a 2015 and beyond introduction date after not a single measure survived.

The deadline for turning in signatures for issues was July 2. To put a measure on the ballot, groups have to collect signatures. Each petition gets a unique number of signatures to collect and everyone who signs must be a registered voter, otherwise the signature is invalid. The failed issues for the November ballot required a minimum of 365,000 signatures. Those collecting signatures are required to explain the issue and answer any questions a potential signer may have.

One issue slated to be on the November ballot was the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment, which would repeal and replace Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Though Why Marriage Matters Ohio was not in charge of gathering signatures for the issue like Freedom Ohio was, the grassroots group is a major supporter of the issue.

Campaign Manager Mike Premo said the goal is to get the issue on the ballot as soon as possible, if not in 2015, then definitely 2016.

“In the meantime, we’re focusing on public education; talking to people who don’t support same-sex marriage and trying to change their minds,” Premo said. “There’s been a nine-point swing in marriage equality in Ohio. It’s now more than 50 percent support among registered voters in Ohio; it’s up five points from last year and opposition has dropped four points.”

He said the goal is to get people talking about the subject.

“If more people talk about marriage equality, the more people think about how every loving committed couple should have the freedom to get married,” he said.

Nancy Lee Campbell, 92, of Marietta, said she has mixed feelings on some of the more controversial issues, like same-sex marriage.

“The same-sex marriage is a hard one: That’s really only something God can tell you if it’s right or wrong,” she said. “I have mixed feelings about it, and I’m sure most people do. I think it should be put on the ballot; the majority of people need to make up their minds one way or the other.”

Some other issues that were slated to be on the ballot include the Personhood Initiative, which would define someone as a “person” or “human being” at any stage in development in life. No signatures were submitted by the group by the deadline.

The Voters Bill of Rights also didn’t make the cut. The issue would have a five-day early voting period, specify extended hours for early voting, allow a voter to cast a provisional ballot anywhere in the correct county and even move toward online voter registration. Of the 385,000 signatures required, the group fell more than 200,000 short.

Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati, leader of the Ohio Voter Bill of Rights movement, said that though the signature requirement wasn’t met, the group will still push the issue for next year.

“We are definitely going to continue our efforts,” she said, adding the launch of a statewide initiative through a convention is coming in the fall.

“We have now over 100,000 petitions that were turned in in 90 days,” she said. “We have petition books in all 88 counties…I think that shows there is an interest statewide.”

After failing to meet a signature requirement in May, the Ohio Clean Energy Initiative evaporated, according to the Associated Press. The issue would have required $1.3 billion in annual investments over a decade in infrastructure, research and development related to solar, wind and other energy sources.

The Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment is also on hold, appearing abandoned after the activist behind the effort left the state, according to AP. The effort would have prohibited private and public workplace unions from requiring employees who refuse to join from being forced to pay fair-share fees in lieu of dues. No signatures were submitted by the group by the July 2 deadline.

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he is a supporter of the workplace freedom issue.

“I’ve always been in favor of workplace freedom,” he said. “If you don’t want to be in a union, you shouldn’t have to be in a union (and pay fees).”

One final effort that has been making waves, not only in Ohio, but across the country, is medical marijuana. At the last tally, the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment had gathered more than 120,000 signatures, said John Pardee, president of the Ohio Rights Group, which was in charge of gathering signatures for the issue.

Pardee said the group is “obviously disappointed” about not making the ballot, especially for those who need access to medical marijuana for illnesses.

“I’m not disappointed in our people,” said Pardee. “We had hundreds of volunteers across Ohio beating the streets and getting signatures.”

Pardee said there are many obstacles in the direct democracy approach, one of which is signature counting to make sure signatures are valid.

“If you don’t have $2 million, you’re not going to get to the ballot,” he said. “It takes the voice from the citizens…All we’re trying to do is let the people of Ohio decide-if you agree, vote yes; if you don’t, vote no.”

Thompson said he isn’t in favor of medical marijuana use for a few reasons.

“I’m sure we’ve all (known) someone (who has) used medical marijuana,” he said. “I’m concerned with how it impacts the workforce and our ability to keep a drug-free workplace.”

Campbell said she’s against medical marijuana use, unless it stops there and goes no further.

“If they could keep it strictly to medical marijuana use, I’d say yes,” said Campbell. “I don’t want to go to my doctor and have him looped up; I think it needs to be properly supervised.”