Ohio Voters Bat Down Assault On Democracy, Abortion Rights In Special Election

Ohio special election. Getty Images/TPM Illustration
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Ohioans handily rejected Republican lawmakers’ attempt to make it much more difficult for citizens to amend the state constitution Tuesday, an effort that was aimed squarely at undermining an upcoming proposal to codify abortion protections. 

The Associated Press called the race at 9:00 p.m. ET, an hour and a half after polls closed in Ohio.

With Tuesday’s vote, state Republicans were trying to raise the threshold for passage of citizen-initiated ballot proposals to 60 percent from its current simple majority. Proposals originating in the heavily Republican legislature, however, would have continued to operate on the lower threshold. Tuesday’s initiative, known as Issue 1, also would have doubled the number of counties from which signatures must be collected (expanding the requirement to every county in the state) and nixed a 10-day grace period.

Technically, the abortion proposal, which is slated to come before voters in November, is a separate entity from Tuesday’s 60 percent initiative. But even in a state where most people support abortion rights, 60 percent is a high bar to meet. One recent poll shows 58 percent of Ohio voters favoring the November abortion amendment — a clear majority that still would have fallen short of what’s needed under the Issue 1 regime, had it passed.

Because Tuesday’s initiative was calculated to ensure that the November abortion proposal — plus other popular initiatives (minimum wage hikes and marijuana legalization have been cited) —  failed, the fate of abortion rights in Ohio likely depended on tonight’s outcome. The win for abortion access, albeit a tangential one, echoes the success abortion rights have had through ballot measures in states as diverse as Kentucky, Michigan, Vermont and California. 

The groups behind November’s abortion proposal campaigned against Issue 1 as well, seeing the two as intrinsically linked, and drove high levels of early-voter turnout. Anti-abortion groups funded aggressive ad campaigns, wrapping in unrelated culture war issues, seeking to defeat Issue 1.

The Ohio legislature had set the election for the sleepy, off month of August, despite passing a bill months earlier to remove low-turnout August special elections from the state’s calendar. 

“These unnecessary off-cycle elections aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials or the civic health of our state,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican challenger to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2024 and perhaps the highest profile champion of the 60 percent initiative, said in late 2022. “It’s time for them to go.”

Backers of the initiative approached Tuesday’s vote with varying degrees of transparency about their actual intention: to thwart the November abortion proposal, which would stymie GOP attempts to impose gestational bans, including the six-week one the governor signed in 2019 that has been indefinitely blocked by a court. 

LaRose, for instance, was caught in a moment of candor after months of denying that the initiative was aimed at the abortion proposal.

“It’s 100 percent about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” he said at a May event. 

His admission quickly made its way into an ad opposing the initiative. 

The August election grew into a high-profile fight in Ohio, becoming the stage on which the early squabbles of the 2024 Senate primary played out and channeling other intra-GOP fights. LaRose went after the other early Republican challengers, calling on state Sen. Matt Dolan (R-OH) and businessman Bernie Moreno to cough up $1 million each for the “vote yes” campaign. 

Critics — including Moreno — have pointed out that LaRose’s current job is supposed to be nonpartisan. 

LaRose had cancelled a press appearance as he cast his vote earlier Tuesday, his spokesperson citing a concern that “vote no” protesters would turn the photo op into a rally.

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