Ohio History Journal

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The 1912 Constitutional

Convention in Ohio:

The Call-up and

Nonpartisan Selection of Delegates




Until recently, little scholarly interest has been shown in the nonpartisan system

and its place in the American election process; neither advocates of the reform nor

students of politics have examined the actual effect of elimination of partisanship

from the ballot in Ohio.1 In the 1910-1911 period an opportunity for an analysis of

the nonpartisan system and the resulting process of recruiting and nominating can-

didates on the community level is provided. At that time voters in the Buckeye

state selected delegates to a constitutional convention to be held in 1912. As out-

lined by the legislature, candidates were to run on a nonpartisan ballot--an electoral

innovation to Ohio voters.

Two mutually antagonistic pressure groups were chiefly responsible for the call-

ing of the convention, the Ohio State Board of Commerce (OSBC), which assumed

the more significant role, and the Ohio Direct Legislation League. Organized in

1893, the OSBC had an active membership of 1721 individual businessmen by 1911,

down from 2039 in 1909. Possibly as an effort to counteract the abrupt loss of

members, the organization in late 1910 broadened its base to include corporations,

farmers, teachers, and nonprofit associations. Dues were assessed on the basis of

ability to pay.

The self-proclaimed record of impressive legislative accomplishments announced

by the Board of Commerce indicated the existence of a permanent state organiza-

tion, well versed in the art of political pressure. After 1900, the OSBC focused

attention on the issue of state tax reform. Ohio operated under a uniform rule of

general property taxation in which real property such as buildings and land were

assessed at the same rate as more easily concealed intangible property, such as

stocks and bonds. In 1903 and again in 1908 the Board of Commerce sponsored

an amendment to the state constitution which would have substituted a classifica-


1. One of the earliest scholarly assessments of the nonpartisan election was J. T. Salter, The Non-

Partison Ballot in Certain Pennsylvania Cities (Philadelphia, 1928); a more recent study is Phillips Cut-

right, "Nonpartisan Electoral Systems in American Cities," Comparative Studies in Society and History,

V (January 1963), 212-226.

Mr. Sponholtz is assistant professor of history at The University of Kansas.