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Ohio voters defeat Issue 1

Signs for and against Ohio Issue 1 in the August 8, 2023 special election
Daniel Konik
/
Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau
Signs for and against Ohio Issue 1 dot the landscape in Columbus.

Updated, August 9, 2023, 5:54 AM ET

Voters in Ohio have strongly defeated Issue 1 on Tuesday, which would have made it harder to amend the state’s constitution, according to the Associated Press’ projections.

Issue 1 would have required citizen-led constitutional amendments to receive 60% voter approval to pass rather than the current 50% plus one simple majority which has been in place for over 100 years.

Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly placed Issue 1 on the ballot in May to make it more difficult to pass an abortion access and reproductive rights amendment that will appear on the November ballot.

Issue 1 would have also required petition gatherers for constitution amendments to obtain signatures for all 88 Ohio counties up from the current threshold of 44. It also eliminates the 10 day grace period for petitioners to gather additional signatures for a constitutional amendment if they filed an insufficient amount of signatures.

The turnout for this election was higher than anticipated. All but one of 10 Ohio counties with live election day trackers showed turnout above 30%, and three had turnout over 40%.

Some Republicans officeholders had said they expected the attention on Issue 1 would drive up turnout. But the weekend before early voting began, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a primary backer of Issue 1, said he “wouldn’t be surprised" if turnout was similar to last year's legislative primary. The turnout in that August 2022 vote was 7.9% statewide.

Early voting boosted turnout numbers. Nearly 700,000 Ohioans cast early ballots, which is twice as many as voted early in the contested primaries for U.S. Senate and governor in May 2022. And it was five times higher than the total turnout last August. There's been no comment from LaRose on turnout.

Dennis Willard, a spokesperson for the opposition campaign One Person One Vote, called Issue 1 a “deceptive power grab” that was intended to diminish the influence of the state’s voters.

“Tonight is a major victory for democracy in Ohio,” Willard told a jubilant crowd at the opposition campaign’s watch party. “The majority still rules in Ohio.”

President Joe Biden hailed Tuesday's result, releasing a statement saying: “This measure was a blatant attempt to weaken voters’ voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions. Ohioans spoke loud and clear, and tonight democracy won.”

A major national group that opposes abortion rights, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, called the result “a sad day for Ohio" while criticizing the outside money that helped the opposition — even though both sides relied on national groups and individuals in their campaigns.

Republican lawmakers who had pushed the measure — and put it before voters during the height of summer vacation season — explained away the defeat as a result of too little time to adequately explain its virtues to voters. A main backer, Republican Senate President Matt Huffman, predicted lawmakers would try again, though probably not as soon as next year.

“Obviously, there are a lot of folks that did not want this to happen — not just because of the November issues, but for all of the other ones that are coming,” he said, expressing disappointment that Republicans didn't stick together. In a statement, Republican House Speaker Jason Stephens advised supporters to move past Tuesday's results to focus on trying to defeat the abortion rights measure: “The people of Ohio have spoken."

While abortion was not directly on the special election ballot, the result marks the latest setback for Republicans in a conservative-leaning state who favor imposing tough restrictions on the procedure. Ohio Republicans placed the question on the summer ballot in hopes of undercutting the citizen initiative that voters will decide in November that seeks to enshrine abortion rights in the state.

Other states where voters have considered abortion rights since last year’s Supreme Court ruling have protected them, including in red states such as Kansas and Kentucky.

Dr. Marcela Azevedo, one of the leaders of a coalition advancing the fall abortion question, said Tuesday that Issue 1’s defeat should allow the measure to pass in November.

Interest in Tuesday's special election was intense, even after Republicans ignored their own law that took effect earlier this year to place the question before voters in August. Voters cast nearly 700,000 early in-person and mail ballots ahead of Tuesday’s final day of voting, more than double the number of advance votes in a typical primary election. Early turnout was especially heavy in the Democratic-leaning counties surrounding Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

One Person One Vote represented a broad, bipartisan coalition of voting rights, labor, faith and community groups. The group also had as allies four living ex-governors of the state and five former state attorneys general of both parties, who called the proposed change bad public policy.

In place since 1912, the simple majority standard is a much more surmountable hurdle for Ohioans for Reproductive Rights, the group advancing November’s abortion rights amendment. It would establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” with “reasonable limits.”

Voters in several states have approved ballot questions protecting access to abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but typically have done so with less than 60% of the vote. AP VoteCast polling last year found that 59% of Ohio voters say abortion should generally be legal.

Eric Chon, a Columbus resident who voted against the measure, said there was a clear anti-abortion agenda to the election. Noting that the GOP voted just last year to get rid of August elections entirely due to low turnout for hyperlocal issues, Chon said, “Every time something doesn’t go their way, they change the rules.”

The election result came in the very type of August special election that Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a candidate for U.S. Senate, had previously testified against as undemocratic because of historically low turnout. Republican lawmakers just last year had voted to mostly eliminate such elections, a law they ignored for this year’s election.

Al Daum, of Hilliard, just west of Columbus, said he didn’t feel the rules were being changed to undermine the power of his vote and said he was in favor of the special election measure. Along with increasing the threshold to 60%, it would mandate that any signatures for a constitutional amendment be gathered from all of Ohio’s 88 counties, not just 44.

It’s a change that Daum said would give more Ohio residents a chance to make their voices heard.

Voters’ rejection of the proposal marked a rare rebuke for Ohio Republicans, who have held power across every branch of state government for 12 years. GOP lawmakers had cited possible future amendments related to gun control, minimum wage increases and more as reasons a higher threshold should be required.

Protect Ohio Women, the campaign working to defeat the fall abortion rights amendment, vowed to continue fighting into the fall.

“Our pro-life, pro-parent coalition is more motivated than ever,” the group said in a statement.

Jo Ingles and Karen Kasler from the Ohio Public Radio contributed to this story.

Nick Houser leads the digital media team and oversees all things digital, including wosu.org, digital content, the WOSU Public Media Mobile App, social media, enewsletters, podcasts and on-demand video.
The Associated Press