Ohio’s Issue 1 Fails “Bigly”—So Does Buckeye Secretary of State Frank LaRose August 13, 2023
We hear this again and again from the GOP, “Don’t trust big national government. Let local voters in the fifty states handle the issues.” Of course, if these voters go against what the GOP wants—decide to raise taxes, vote for a higher minimum wage, or plan to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions, “Team Red” goes ballistic. Democracy, according to GOP standards, only applies when its side wins. After the August 8, 2023 landslide vote in leaning-“Red” State Ohio to defeat Issue 1, I don’t think there will be many comments from GOPers about how the “will of the people” should always be trusted.
Ohio voters from cities, suburbs, and even rural areas favorable to Trump voted overwhelmingly against a GOP power grab, Issue 1, by a 14.2% margin. With all the precincts counted, the “NO/Nay votes had it,” 57.01% -42.99% on whether Issue 1 should be passed (cbsnews.com, Quinn, M., 8/09/23). OH’s Issue 1 was pushed by GOPers in the “Red”-dominated Buckeye State Legislature and OH’s Republican Secretary of State, Frank LaRose. Pundits, analysts, and political reporters correctly noted that Issue 1 was an attempt by the GOP to curb the ability of ballot initiatives (BeMiller, “Columbus Dispatch,” 8/08/23, nytimes.com, Wines, 8/08/23, cnn.com, Bradner, 8/08/23). If Measure 1 had passed, ballot initiatives enacting constitutional amendments by Democrats and progressives, otherwise blocked by the OH GOP conservative legislature, would have been required to get 60% of the vote. Sixty percent of the vote constitutes a supermajority, not the normal simple majority, a 50% plus one vote. Additionally, Issue 1 would have required citizens who wanted to place an amendment on the ballot to collect signatures from at least 5% of the voters from the last gubernatorial election in all 88 of OH’s counties, instead of the current 44 counties now required. In the 111 years that OH voters have had the power to propose and vote on ballot initiatives, only about 1/3 of constitutional amendments managed to exceed this 60% supermajority (Ballotpedia, nytimes.com, Wines, 8/08/23). Another provision of Issue 1 would have eliminated the ability to correct errors in signatures that had been rejected by state officials (nytimes.com, Wines). Why did the GOP push this amendment now? Because of the abortion issue. The OH GOP-dominated state legislative chambers moved to raise barriers to new amendments just weeks before abortion rights advocates delivered petitions with roughly half a million verified signatures to state offices. These signatures were more than enough to force a November, 2023 vote codifying the right to an abortion (nytimes.com, Wines, 8/08/23). Although Ohio voters strongly favor the right to have abortions, two recent polls indicated that the 60% polling threshold required by Issue 1 would not have been reached by the pro-choice camp (nytimes.com, Wines, 8/08/23). At least $32 million were spent by abortion opponents and advocates on Issue 1, split roughly between the two sides. Four million dollars was donated by Illinois right-wing donor Richard Uihlein and organizations controlled by Leonard Leo also gave millions. Leo was the fellow who helped confirm Trump’s GOP Supreme Ct. nominees. The progressive Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $2.64 million (nytimes.com, Wines).
GOPers pushed to have the Issue 1 vote in the summer even though a new OH election law restricted most August special elections. They were, as many people pointed out, hoping for a low turnout that often aids the “Team Red.” Of course, GOPers tried to hide the real motive for putting Issue 1 on the ballot—making it hard for pro-choice voters to get the margin they needed to prevail. They talked about how Issue 1 would keep left-wing issues from being passed in OH. However, Secretary of State LaRose “spilled the proverbial beans.” He was caught in June, 2023 saying that “This (Issue 1) is 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution (kos.com, Singer, 8/08/23).” The “No” side hammered LaRose’s comments in ads (kos.com, Singer, 8/08/23). LaRose became the highest-profile advocate for Issue 1. In a video, LaRose touted holding 76 events in favor of the measure (cnn.com, Bradner, 8/08/23). In my next blog post, I will discuss LaRose’s background and just what this political win for pro-choice forces means.