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Newsom Chides GOP for Trying to Change Voting Rules yet Adopts the Same Tactics
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Published 5 months ago on
December 3, 2023

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After Ohio voters approved a state constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom chided Ohio’s Republicans for trying to change voting rules to thwart the abortion measure.

Dan Walters with a serious expression

Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

GOP political figures had placed a measure on an August election ballot that would have raised the minimum vote needed to pass an abortion rights amendment from a simple majority to 60%, but it had been defeated.

What happened – or rather didn’t happen – in August was pivotal to what happened three months later. The abortion rights amendment was passed with 56.6% of the votes cast. In other words, had the anti-abortion Republicans succeeded in raising the approval threshold to 60%, November’s measure would have failed.

“Here’s a tale of a party out of touch with the American people,” Newsom declared on X, formerly Twitter. “Ohio Republicans were so desperate to block abortion access they tried to change the rules in a special election and require 60% support to pass constitutional amendments. But they failed.

“Then, they tried to block a ballot initiative to protect abortion rights. They failed again. Now, they are claiming election interference and are even saying they will strip the Courts of power to overturn the will of voters. Spoiler: You’re going to fail, again. They really can’t seem to take a hint.”

Newsom Complaints About GOP Manipulation

Newsom’s crowing about Republican manipulation of voting rules was particularly noteworthy because he and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature are trying to do precisely the same thing to block a business-backed ballot measure that would make it more difficult to raise state and local taxes.

Tax measure is scheduled to appear on the November ballot next year. It would require voter approval of any new taxes passed by the Legislature and two-thirds voter approval for local taxes.

The California Constitution currently says that statewide ballot measures need only a simple majority of voters to approve. However, the Legislature has placed another constitutional amendment on the same ballot that, if passed, would require any measure to increase voting thresholds for taxes to reach the same thresholds themselves.

Thus, it would raise the voting requirement for the tax measure to two-thirds, making it much more difficult, or perhaps impossible, to pass.

It’s part of a multi-pronged drive by the tax measure’s opponents – Newsom, Democratic legislative leaders and public employee unions – to block it from appearing on the ballot or gaining approval.

Newsom, et al, have also filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to remove the business-backed tax measure from the ballot, contending that it is not merely an amendment to the state constitution but rather a “revision.”

While constitutional amendments may be placed before voters either by initiative petition or legislative action, any revisions must be proposed by the Legislature through a constitutional revision commission or by calling a statewide constitutional convention.

Newsom, through a spokesperson, says he is challenging the validity of the tax measure because it would “effectively block the state’s ability to quickly respond to major challenges.”

Were the state Supreme Court to declare that the tax measure is a constitutional revision, it would be game over. However, the legal dividing line between a constitutional amendment and a revision is hazy, and the court might postpone the issue until after voters have spoken next November.

One can rationally debate the merits or negative aspects of making it more difficult to raise taxes, but trying to strangle such a measure before voters have their say, as occurred in Ohio and is now occurring in California, is troublesome.

Whatever happens – or doesn’t – Newsom’s criticism of Ohio’s Republicans for trying to bend the rules mid-game is pure hypocrisy.

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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