Perspective | From sizzle to fizzle: no November issues

In January, this November's election was shaping up as one that could be full of passion and politics, with Ohioans debating and voting on multiple hot-button issues.

There were announced pushes for legalizing gay marriage, authorizing medical marijuana, establishing a definition of "personhood" that could virtually ban abortions, putting a Voters Bill of Rights into the Ohio Constitution, enacting a controversial right-to-work law and selling bonds to stimulate renewable energy research.

Voters would have had their plates full. There would be lots of homework. And depending which issues made the ballot, one governor candidate or another might get a big boost.

And this week, when the deadline came to turn in needed signatures to get on the ballot and the dust cleared, we learned that Ohioans will be voting on -- drumroll, fanfare -- none of the above.

A possible supersize ballot turned blank on statewide issues.

Republican Ohio U.S. Senator Rob Portman was surprised. " I figured there would be a few things on the ballot," he said,

Democratic State Representative and Cuyahoga County Executive Candidate Armond Budish put a political spin on his explanation for what happened.

"The people in the majority in Columbus would prefer not having citizen initiatives come before voters, allowing them to run things the way they want to...They changed the rules in the legislature . They made it much harder to put things on the ballot," he said.

It takes about 385,000 valid signatures to put an issue on the ballot. And there are minimum signature requirements in 44 of the 88 counties.

John Pardee, president of the Ohio Rights Group behind a proposal for medicinal marijuana, said, " We are not at the point we would need to be at to put this issue before the people of Ohio in this election year."

The African-American churches group seeking to build a Voters Bill of Rights into the Ohio Constitution had less than a third of needed signatures.

Efforts to make Ohio a right-to-work state, banning mandatory union membership, also came up short.

"Being able to collect adequate signatures is a big job. It's harder than you think, " Portman said.

Backers of legalizing gay marriage by replacing Ohio's constitutional ban know the numbers in Ohio are moving in their favor. Polls show the state almost evenly split.

The issue could be on the ballot in 2015 or the Presidential year of 2016.

Portman, whose gay son Will made him a backer of allowing same sex marriage, thinks a popular vote is the best way to handle the issue in Ohio.

Federal courts in neighboring states have overturned their bans on gay marriage. It may be only a matter of time before that happens in Ohio and/or nationwide.

"Let the people decide. I think it's more enduring...People feel better about having a say in it," he said

But while Ohio voters will continue the debate on multiple important issues, their only decision this fall will be whom to elect, not what to support.

And that means less analysis of important issues and likely fewer Ohioans getting engaged and bothering to vote, a double loss for democracy.

Maybe next year.

Follow WKYC's Tom Beres on Twitter @TomBeres


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