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History of Initiative & Referendum in Ohio

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The Ohio Constitution was amended on September 3, 1912, establishing the right of Ohio residents to:

From 1913, when the first initiated constitutional amendment was voted on in 1913, through 2014, Ohio voters have voted on 67 initiated amendments to their constitution, approving 19 and rejecting 48.

Between 1913 and 2014, Ohio voters also voted on 151 proposed constitutional amendments that were legislatively referred to the ballot by the Ohio State Legislature. Of these, voters approved of 102 amendments and rejected 49.

Including all 218 initiated and referred constitutional amendments voted on by Ohio citizens, 121 amendments have been approved and 97 rejected.

History of I&R

The first steps toward I&R in Ohio begin in 1896 when the National Direct Legislation League met in St. Louis, Missouri. The league elected 56 vice presidents, four of whom were from Ohio, the largest number of the 36 states that were represented.

Reverend Herbert Bigelow

The leader who guided Ohio's initiative and referendum forces to victory was the Reverend Herbert S. Bigelow of Cincinnati's Vine Street Congregational Church. Church members who disapproved of his political work quit in droves; his salary diminished to the point that he and his wife had to take in boarders to make ends meet. When he invited the I&R advocate and Prohibitionist R. S. Thompson to speak to the congregation, the church's trustees locked the doors. Later, the trustees filed formal charges of heresy against Bigelow before a church court, but he was never tried. Eventually, Bigelow's supporters won control of the board of trustees and helped him make Vine Street a nerve center of the state's Progressive movement.

When the state senate approved an I&R amendment in 1906, Bigelow sensed that success was near and took a leave of absence from the church, with his congregation's consent, to work full time for I&R, "for a time, perhaps two or three years." In 1908, despite opposition from the Governor, "the well-known machine representative," (as Equity called him), the I&R bill passed both houses, but was killed by legislators voting secretly in a conference committee. I&R backers charged that "the Republican bosses and their tools in the state senate" were responsible.

The 1912 state constitutional convention

The Progressives finally got their I&R amendment, not through the legislature, but in a state constitutional convention, along with some 41 other amendments, which were submitted for voter approval in a special election held September 3, 1912. A contemporary account of the campaign called it “the most bitter and momentous struggle known in the state for a generation. Every ruse and trick known to Big Business politicians was employed to frighten the people of Ohio from adopting the I&R. The whole corporate power of the state backed by Wall Street money and influence was thrown into the fight. The Catholic Church stood against the people's power measures and issued printed instructions to their members, at the Sunday services, on how to vote.”

The fight for the I&R amendment and for other vitally important amendments was led by Reverend Bigelow, ably assisted by Mayor Brand Whitlock (D) of Toledo and Mayor Baker (D) of Cleveland. The I&R amendment passed in a statewide vote on September 3, 1912 with 57.5% of the vote.

First initiative in 1913

The first year an initiative appeared on the Ohio ballot was in 1913. Both initiated measures that year were defeated.

First successful initiative in 1914

Ohioans petitioned four measures onto the 1914 ballot, and one of them, Ohio Amendment 1 regarding home rule for the sale of intoxicating beverages, passed. The Women's Suffrage Amendment was not so lucky.

Voters in 1933 approved the Old Age Pension Initiative and, in 1936, overwhelmingly passed an initiative banning taxes on food. In 1949 they dealt a serious blow to political machines in the state, abolishing the voting-booth system of electing an entire party slate of candidates with the flick of a single lever. Henceforth, voters decided the merits of each candidate independently.

Rejection at the voting booth

During the next 39 years, voters rejected all but one initiative put before them. The exception was the 30-Day Voter Eligibility Initiative, a 1977 vote to repeal a law, approved only months previously by the legislature, that allowed people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day rather than requiring them to register beforehand.

Term limits

In 1992, three separate term limits initiatives were petitioned onto the ballot and approved at the ballot box: Congressional Term Limits, Gubernatorial Term Limits, and State Legislative Term Limits.

See also

External links


This article is significantly based on an article[1] published by the Initiative & Referendum Institute, and is used with their permission. Their article, in turn, relies on research in David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.[2]


  1. History of Ohio's initiative
  2. Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution Temple University Press, 352 pp., ISBN-10: 0877229031, October 1991