COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio voters will have the final say this November on an "ambiguity" in the state's constitution that Republicans say could allow non-U.S. citizens to participate in local elections.
The state Senate on Wednesday approved HJR 4, which would specify in the Ohio Constitution that non-citizens are prohibited from voting in municipal races. All Democrats joined the GOP in unanimously approving the resolution, and with the House already giving its blessing to the amendment last week, it will now be on the ballot this November.
The legislative action stems from an incident two years ago in the Southwest Ohio village of Yellow Springs, when citing "home rule" the council passed a charter amendment allowing all residents at least 16 years old to vote in local elections even if they were not citizens of the United States. Non-citizens are already prohibited from casting ballots in statewide and national elections, but officials say there could theoretically be loopholes in the state constitution allowing such voters in municipal races.
The Ohio Constitution currently specifies that: "Every citizen of the United States, of the age of eighteen years, who has been a resident of the state, county, township, or ward, such time as may be provided by law, and has been registered to vote for thirty days, has the qualifications of an elector, and is entitled to vote at all elections."
According to the Ohio Legislative Services Commission, "it appears that only one Ohio municipality [Yellow Springs] allows otherwise-ineligible persons to vote in local elections." Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered the Greene County Board of Elections to block all non-citizen ballot applications coming from the village, and as of two years later no such residents are registered to vote in the community.
LaRose released the following statement today following passage of the resolution, which was sponsored by Reps. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) and Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) in the House and Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Colerain Township) in the Senate
"To reiterate, Ohio elections are only for Ohio citizens. The right to vote is sacrosanct and fundamental to what citizenship means in America and is why so many immigrate from around the world to the U.S., wait their turn in line, and go through the laborious citizenship process so they too can participate in this hallmark of democracy.
"I am grateful for the leadership of Senator Blessing, Representative Seitz and Representative Edwards on this issue, and for ensuring that the voters of Ohio will make the final determination on this matter come November. I am confident that the vast majority of Ohioans will agree and will refuse to cheapen this distinctly American right we all hold so dear."
Under Ohio law, any amendments to the state constitution must receive at least 3/5 approval from both chambers of the General Assembly to appear on the ballot. Once that is achieve, it can be adopted by obtaining only a simple majority from Ohio voters.