Ohio Voters Head to Polls for Special Election on Issue 1

Ohio residents are voting in a special election on Tuesday for Issue 1, a ballot measure that aims to raise the threshold for voter approval of amendments to Ohio’s constitution. If passed, the measure would require 60% approval for future constitutional amendments, up from the current simple majority requirement. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who proposed the measure, believes it will keep out-of-state special interests away from Ohio’s founding document. Opponents of the referendum suspect it is designed to thwart a constitutional amendment regarding abortion rights on the November ballot. Karen Kasler reported

Ohio residents are lining up to vote early in-person on Issue 1, a ballot measure that aims to increase the threshold for voter approval of amendments to Ohio’s constitution. If passed, the measure would require 60% approval to pass future constitutional amendments, rather than the current simple majority requirement that has been in place since 1912. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who proposed the measure, argues that it is necessary to keep wealthy out-of-state special interests from influencing Ohio’s founding document. The timing of the referendum has raised suspicions among opponents, who believe it is designed to thwart a constitutional amendment in November that would protect reproductive rights in the state constitution.

The origins of Issue 1 can be traced back to last summer when Ohio implemented a six-week abortion ban. This led to a 10-year-old rape victim being unable to receive treatment in Ohio and having to travel to Indiana for an abortion. In response, groups mobilized to draft an amendment to guarantee abortion access in Ohio’s constitution and began collecting signatures for a November ballot issue. However, Republican lawmakers, who hold a supermajority, were unable to include their 60% voter approval idea on the May primary ballot. Instead, they devised a plan for an August special election. This posed a problem as most August special elections had been eliminated by a law passed by Republicans in December. LaRose, who supported that law, argued that holding an election in August was not unusual if the state legislature decided to do so.

Opponents of raising the approval threshold to 60% formed a large coalition and hundreds of protestors gathered at the Statehouse in May to express their opposition. Republican lawmakers proceeded with their plans, even adding a provision that would make it significantly more challenging for grassroots groups to put amendments on the ballot. Under the new provision, they would need to gather signatures from all 88 counties in Ohio, compared to the current requirement of 44 counties. This would make it nearly impossible for grassroots groups to meet the requirements. Despite the current requirements, it is already uncommon for citizens and interest groups to get amendments before voters. Since 1912, Ohio’s constitution has been amended 172 times, but only 19 of those amendments came from citizens or groups. Republican supermajority lawmakers easily passed the plan, leading to protests and chants of “One person, one vote!” from Democrats and protestors in the Ohio House chamber. Opponents of the measure filed a lawsuit, arguing that the resolution violated a law that prohibited most August special elections. However, the Ohio Supreme Court, in a party-line decision, ruled that the law did not apply to state legislators putting a constitutional amendment before voters.

The controversial referendum has garnered national attention, with the coalition supporting Issue 1 consisting primarily of anti-abortion organizations, gun rights groups, and major business groups concerned about a forthcoming minimum wage amendment. The opposition includes union groups, abortion rights and gun law reform groups, as well as Ohio’s four living ex-governors and five former attorneys general from both parties. Despite the timing of the election in the middle of August vacation season when turnout is typically low, Ohioans have shown up for early voting. Long lines have been reported in some counties, and a substantial amount of money, around $22 million, has been spent on advertising for both sides of the issue, with the majority of funds coming from outside Ohio. Issue 1 is the only item on the ballot for Tuesday’s special election..