Ahead of a pivotal Aug. 8 special election explicitly aimed at thwarting a November vote to enshrine abortion rights into Ohio's constitution, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose just allowed anti-abortion groups to use incorrect forms to request absentee ballots after Jewish groups, whose supporters are more likely to back abortion rights, used similar forms and were rejected.
Voters next month will decide on a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by Republicans that would raise the threshold needed for voters to pass future amendments, from the current simple majority to a 60% supermajority. Notably, though, the GOP's measure only needs a simple majority to pass—and if approved by voters, it would take effect in time for the potential abortion rights amendment this fall. That amendment appears likely to make the ballot after supporters recently turned in 710,000 signatures from voters, well above the 413,000 required statewide to qualify.
LaRose's decision to favor anti-abortion organizations over Jewish groups comes just months after Ohio Republicans passed a restrictive new voting law that, among other things, includes one of the nation's strictest voter ID requirements. Before the bill's passage, Ohio required no standardized form for requesting mail ballots, but the new law now mandates a specific form.
Last month, reports WEWS' Morgan Trau, the Cleveland Jewish News published what it described as an older ballot request form, prompting officials to reject applications from voters who used it. (Many Jews consider abortion access essential under Jewish law, and members of Ohio's Jewish community have been vocal in speaking out against the state's six-week abortion ban, which courts have currently put on hold. A 2015 Pew study showed American Jews believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases by an 83-15 margin, a larger proportion than any other religious group.)
But after anti-abortion advocates who support the GOP's amendment made a similar mistake as the Jewish News a week later, LaRose quickly acted to instruct local election boards to accept the older form if "the voter includes a valid form of ID" required under the new law.
LaRose, who is poised to announce a bid for Senate next year, has openly stated that his party's effort to restrict ballot initiatives "is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution." Other key Republican supporters of the amendment have similarly argued that the new threshold could block a planned ballot initiative to end their gerrymanders next year.
The GOP's same voting restriction law passed earlier this year also ended regular August elections, with LaRose arguing at the time that summertime races "generate chronically low turnout because voters aren’t expecting an election to occur" and dubbing them "bad news for the civic health of our state." Yet now that he and his allies are counting on low turnout next month to pass their effort to make amending the constitution more difficult, LaRose has changed his tune and called next month's measure "one of the ways that we can make sure [reformers] are not successful."
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that, prior to the passage of Ohio’s new voting law earlier this year, the secretary of state did offer an absentee ballot request form, but its usage was not mandatory. It also clarifies the nature of the forms used by the Cleveland Jewish News and anti-abortion organizations.