Voting concludes Tuesday in Ohio for a high-stakes special election for a Republican-backed measure called Issue 1, a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for voters to pass future amendments―including an upcoming one to protect abortion rights. Voters in Mississippi also go to the polls the same day for their regularly scheduled party primaries for statewide offices, the state legislature, and other posts.
Ohio Republicans control the governorship and hold supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, so ballot measures are one of the few ways that progressives can influence state government. To further restrict that avenue, Republican lawmakers placed Issue 1, which would increase the threshold for voter approval of amendments from the current simple majority to 60%, on the ballot.
The measure would also require voters to gather signatures from all 88 counties to qualify their own amendments instead of the current 44, a move designed to make it even harder for progressive measures to even reach the ballot in the first place. (Joe Biden carried just seven counties in 2020.)
Republicans have done nothing to hide the fact that they scheduled the vote, which is the only contest on Tuesday's ballot, for August in order to make it more difficult for pro-choice advocates to pass their own amendment on Nov. 7 that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution.
"This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution," Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is competing in the 2024 primary to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, told fellow conservatives earlier this year. The head of Ohio Right to Life agreed in a recent interview with Bloomberg. "From the pro-life, pro-family, pro-Christian lane, yes, a hundred percent about abortion for us," said Mike Gonidakis.
But Issue 1 has also drawn backing from Ohio's business community. "But for the rest of our diverse group of coalition members, it has nothing to do with abortion," explained Gonidakis. "They're protecting their way of life."
Indeed, the November abortion amendment is by no means the only ballot measure that conservatives want to stop in order to safeguard their "way of life." For starters, a Republican state representative told colleagues last year that he hopes Issue 1 will thwart a 2024 effort to create an independent redistricting commission that would end the GOP's existing gerrymanders.
Several agriculture organizations also are pushing for Issue 1 to succeed, with the head of the Ohio AgriBusiness Association explaining to Farm and Dairy, "If Issue 1 does not pass, then we maintain the status quo which means that we will continue to be vulnerable … particularly to radical animal groups or radical environmental groups." While there are no active efforts underway to regulate the agricultural industry at the ballot box, the Ohio Dairy Producers Association warned that efforts like California's Proposition 12, which raised housing standards for animal confinement, could come to the Buckeye State.
Prominent business groups like the state Chamber of Commerce are likewise looking to hinder an ongoing campaign to increase the minimum wage from its current level of $10.10 per hour. "The business community is usually the one left holding the bag when these initiatives make it to the ballot," Chamber head Steve Stivers told Bloomberg, with the former GOP congressman adding, "We'd rather make it harder for that bad idea to make it on the ballot than have to raise $3 to $5 million every time to fight it."
But while the pro-Issue 1 faction has repeatedly claimed it's trying to make it harder for out-of-state interests to change the state's governing document for their own ends, much of the money it's raised has come from one Illinois billionaire, conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein. Despite Uihlein's largess, though, the GOP firm Medium Buying says that the "no" side has outspent opponents by a total of $12.4 million to $9.7 million on TV and radio ads.
The campaign to beat Issue 1 has run commercials depicting a pair of scissors slicing apart the state constitution as the narrator warns the amendment would give "corrupt politicians and special interests more control," while others have made use of LaRose's words to argue that conservatives want to "lock in Ohio's extreme abortion ban." The "yes" side, meanwhile, has resorted to transphobia by insisting, "Out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids are hiding behind slick ads." (Neither Issue 1 nor the abortion amendment has anything to do with any of these issues.)
There have been very few polls released during this entire campaign. The only one that directly asked respondents how they'd vote was a mid-July survey from Suffolk University that found "no" ahead by a strong 59-26 margin. More recent numbers from Ohio Northern University had a tiny 42-41 plurality saying they were in agreement with a terse summary of some of the effects of Issue 1, but as we noted at the time, it didn't actually inquire whether they'd vote "yes" or "no." Ballot measures are notoriously difficult to poll, however, so we'll only know which approach was best on Tuesday night.
One thing we do know, based on early voting (which concluded Sunday), is that considerably more people will cast ballots than Republicans expected or hoped when they set this race for the dead of summer. "For the naysayers who said there would be low turnout for an August election, I think the turnout for early and absentee voting has been very robust," said a spokesperson for the secretary of state's office. One of those naysayers was LaRose himself, who volunteered just weeks ago that he "wouldn't be surprised" if turnout was in the single digits.
Recent elections in other states, however, give progressives reasons to be optimistic. As FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich writes, voters in South Dakota rejected attempts to raise the threshold to pass certain ballot measures in both 2018 and 2022, while their counterparts in Arkansas torpedoed an amendment similar to Issue 1 just last year. Arizona did narrowly approve a measure to require a 60% majority to pass amendments to raise taxes or impose new ones in 2022, but that amendment did not go as far as Issue 1 would in Ohio.
The rules that conservatives want to impose in the Buckeye State are similar to those in place in Florida, which in 2006 voted to require at least 60% to pass constitutional amendments. (That's the second-largest threshold in the country; amendments in New Hampshire need a hefty two-thirds support to go into effect.) But the contest to pass Amendment 3, as Florida data expert Matthew Isbell explains, was a far less partisan affair, as it triumphed in both red and blue counties on its way to a 58-42 win statewide. Just two of Florida's 67 counties, Pinellas and Volusia, voted in the negative, and both were quite competitive in presidential elections at the time.
Isbell writes in 2006 that the fight over Amendment 3 took place after several "controversial and niche issues" had passed at the ballot box, including a high-speed rail amendment that won 53-47 in 2000 only to be repealed 64-36 four years later. Republicans at the time controlled state government, but since few expected that Democrats would find themselves in the minority for long, it was far from clear that Amendment 3 would disproportionately harm either party. Democrats, though, have remained out of power ever since, and progressives have needed to make use of the amendment process―60% requirement and all―to get any of their priorities passed.
Over in Mississippi, meanwhile, the big race to watch is the GOP primary for the powerful post of lieutenant governor, which wields great authority over the state Senate. Incumbent Delbert Hosemann, as we recently detailed, is trying to fend off a far-right challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who also has benefited from Uihlein's help. The Magnolia State requires candidates win a majority of the vote in order to avoid an Aug. 29 runoff, so the presence of a little-known third contender named Tiffany Longino could be enough to send things into overtime.
The first polls close in Ohio at 7:30 PM ET, and our live coverage will begin then at Daily Kos Elections (Mississippi closes a half hour later). You can also follow us on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates.
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