Ohio voters on Tuesday rejected a Republican-backed measure called Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made it difficult to ever change the state's constitution again. The proposal was failing 57-43 with 98% of the estimated vote tallied when the Associated Press called the race. The result means that pro-choice advocates will need to win a simple majority on Nov. 7 in order to pass their own amendment to enshrine abortion rights into the state's governing document instead of the 60% supermajority that Issue 1 would have imposed.
The outcome also ensures that activists seeking to pass other amendments opposed by Ohio's GOP-dominated state government will not need to contend with the dramatically increased signature requirements that Issue 1 would have required in order to qualify measures for the ballot. (Republicans in numerous other states have also been trying to make it tougher to pass progressive ballot change at the ballot box, mostly without success.) That's good news for a 2024 effort to create an independent redistricting commission in place of a broken bipartisan board that tilts heavily to the GOP, as well as a campaign to raise the minimum wage from its current level of $10.10 per hour.
Both sides, however, chiefly viewed Tuesday's contest as a proxy fight over abortion rights, with Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose outright declaring in June, "This is 100% about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution." The "no" side ran a barrage of ads highlighting those comments from LaRose, who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, warning that "[c]orrupt politicians and special interests" were "trying to rig the rules to lock in Ohio's extreme abortion ban and stop efforts to restore our rights."
Conservative groups, though, seem to have decided that abortion rights were too popular to directly attack in a state where, according to Civiqs, voters agree 55-40 that the procedure should be legal in all or most cases. The "yes" side instead 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.)
Other right-wing ads insisted that Issue 1 was necessary to stop "radical groups" from "tak[ing] away parents' ability to be informed and to make decisions for their children," even though the November abortion amendment wouldn't impact the state's parental consent laws.
The pro-Issue 1 side further claimed it was trying to stop out-of-state interests from changing the state's governing document for their own ends, despite the fact that much of their money came from one out-of-state billionaire, Illinois megadonor Richard Uihlein. But Uihlein's deep pockets were not enough: AdImpact reports that the "no" side outspent its rivals $15.9 million to $10.7 million on TV and radio ads.
None of the GOP's messages helped avert defeat on Tuesday, but it remains to be seen whether conservatives will adopt different tactics heading into the fall. And another expensive battle looms: The groups backing abortion rights tell NBC they'll spend at least $35 million to pass their amendment, while their opponents at Protect Women Ohio say they've already booked $25 million in ad time.
This story has been updated to reflect the updated vote totals.
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