August 10, 2023

Ohio Ballot Measure

Ohio voters on Tuesday rejected a Republican-backed measure that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution, an initiative aimed at helping defeat a November referendum that would protect abortion access in the state…

“The proposal, known as Issue 1, would have lifted the threshold for passing future changes to the state constitution to 60% of voters, up from 50%, as well as imposing more stringent standards for getting such measures on the ballot in the first place.” Reuters

Both sides criticize the Ohio GOP’s strategy:

“While Republicans and anti-abortion groups claimed that making it harder to pass ballot measures was necessary to protect the integrity of Ohio’s constitution from interference by out-of-state groups, 82 percent of the funding for the pro-Issue 1 political action committee came from an Illinois-based Republican megadonor named Richard Uihlein…

“Supporters tried to claim that the restrictions they were pushing were because they truly deeply cared about Ohio democracy. Issue 1 proponents argued that efforts to change the state’s founding documents should be difficult, and that too much direct democracy could even undermine their system of representative government…

“However, the idea that Ohio voters can easily amend their state constitution is not true. In the last 111 years, only 19 citizen-led ballot measures have been approved, and 52 failed. What Issue 1 supporters were really objecting to is that there was a viable way to check anti-abortion lawmakers’ power at all.”

Rachel M. Cohen, Vox

“Pro-choicers are quite capable of mustering simple majorities on initiatives related to abortion, as they’ve proved recently in places like Kansas and Michigan. But a supermajority? That’s a heavy lift in all but the bluest states. The Ohio GOP played Calvinball, in other words, aiming to change the rules in the middle of the proverbial game to produce an outcome it desired because it no longer believes it can persuade a majority to prefer that outcome on the merits…

“Result: In a state Donald Trump twice won comfortably, the raise-the-bar referendum went down in flames, 57-43. Ohio counties that have voted Republican reliably (or almost reliably) in presidential elections for a century joined the majority in opposition…

“Voters who are so engaged with politics that they’ll turn out for a ballot referendum during the sleepiest month of the year aren’t naturals to support an initiative that would weaken their own democratic power… The rules of Calvinball are unpredictable, by definition. The outcome of this particular game was not.”

Nick Catoggio, The Dispatch

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“Direct democracy does not always produce good outcomes. In 2004, Ohio was among several states where voters added same-sex marriage bans to their state constitutions. California’s ballot initiative system has created a messy patchwork of policies that limit state revenue while also mandating state spending on certain programs. But referendums have proved to be essential checks on state legislatures, particularly in states in which one party controls the legislature and the governorship…

“The Buckeye State is so badly gerrymandered that Republicans control 70 percent of state legislative seats despite averaging about 54 percent of the vote in statewide races over the past decade… Last year, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R) boasted: ‘We can kind of do what we want.’… Ohio’s lawmakers needed a voter rebuke.”

Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Issue 1 was an effort to gerrymander the referendum process… Another problem with the GOP’s scheming is that it blocked what might have been a reasoned debate over when supermajorities for constitutional changes might be justified. By placing it on an August ballot and waging a last-minute disinformation campaign on the issue, Republicans undercut any claims to philosophical seriousness

“When Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority in striking down Roe, he was (one imagines unintentionally) prophetic: ‘Women are not without electoral or political power,’ he said, emphasizing that the court was returning authority over abortion law ‘to the people and their elected representatives.’ By turning out in unexpectedly large numbers in Ohio, the people, and especially women, took that authority seriously.”

E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post

“Since Ohio’s three traditional branches of government clearly weren’t checking and balancing much, voters therefore stood up as the fourth. This time it’s good that they did… But be careful about making this a general rule. Do you really want to let voters amend constitutions with a mere 50% plus one vote, always and everywhere?… There is no easy answer… [This is] what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said that the framers had given Americans ‘a republic, if you can keep it.’ Two cheers to Ohio this week. Three cheers to America if it can indeed keep it.”

Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg

From the Right

“[The] proposal to raise the bar for amending the state constitution to 60 percent support rather than a simple majority… [is] already in place in several other states, so it wasn’t a particularly ‘radical’ idea. In fact, the concept is very much in keeping with the Founders’ discussions regarding amending the federal Constitution. It should be hard to amend it, if only to keep such a foundational document from flipping and flopping every cycle as the winds of political opinions shift. And yet it was defeated in a fashion that defies the typical Left/Right divide percentages we normally see in the swing state of Ohio.”

Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“Ohio joins Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin as warnings to Republicans about abortion politics… Republicans spent half a century working to overturn Roe, yet they weren’t prepared for the democratic policy debate when that finally happened in Dobbs last year. Now they’re seeing abortion regimes as loose as Roe, or potentially looser, imposed by voters even in conservative states. This political liability will persist until the GOP finds an abortion message that most voters can accept.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Recent polls indicate that between 54 percent and 57 percent of Buckeye State voters support [the proposed abortion] amendment. However, a substantial body of data shows that ballot propositions lose support as the Election Day draws near. Michigan’s experience in 2022 is instructive. As in Ohio, supporters of legal abortion there placed on the ballot a proposal that would have enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution…

“This ballot question was named Proposition 3. Three separate polls conducted in mid September saw opposition to Proposition 3 ranging between 24 percent and 27 percent. [But on Election Day it] was opposed by over 43 percent of Wolverine State voters. Pro-lifers did not get the victory they wanted, but opposition to Proposition 3 increased by 16 to 19 points in less than two months…

“A similar increase in opposition to Ohio’s proposed abortion amendment would put pro-lifers within striking distance of victory… A pro-life victory in November would require considerable effort from pro-lifers around the country as well as in Ohio. That said, a pro-life victory is still certainly within reach.”
Michael J. New, National Review

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