How many people must vote in order to get a majority? Why Issue 1 in Ohio is in dispute?

Ohio residents line up to vote early in-person on Issue 1 in front of the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023.Samantha Hendrickson/AP
Ohio residents line up to vote early in-person on Issue 1 in front of the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Samantha Hendrickson/AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a special election on Tuesday, voters will decide whether to raise the bar for approving constitutional changes to Ohio by passing Issue 1.

If approved, the bill will increase Ohio’s existing simple majority threshold, which has been the rule since 1912, to 60% support for future constitutional modifications.

 

The bill, put up by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, is intended to prevent rich out-of-state special interests from influencing Ohio’s founding charter.

LaRose stated, “We’re talking about changing the Constitution certainly for the rest of our lives. That needs to be treated seriously.

The timing of the vote, according to its opponents, is intended to block a constitutional amendment that would codify reproductive rights in the state constitution and be on the ballot in November.

 

What Issue 1 has to do with abortion access in Ohio?

Everything began when Ohio’s restriction on abortions beyond six weeks went into force last summer. Soon after, information of a 10-year-old rape victim who had traveled to Indiana for an abortion after Ohio doctors refused to treat her quickly became viral.

The Ohio state constitution was amended to ensure access to abortions, and activists rallied to start gathering signatures for a November ballot question. However, the ban was temporarily suspended due to litigation.

Republican supermajority lawmakers devised a fresh plan in February to hold an August special election after their 60% voter approval proposal was denied inclusion on the state’s May primary ballot.

There was only one issue: Republicans had voted in a measure they approved in December to abolish the majority of August special elections. LaRose, who spoke in favor of the measure, claimed that it shouldn’t be a problem.

“As a course of action, normal course of doing business, yes, I do not believe that having elections in August as a normal way of holding elections,” he said.

But it wouldn’t be odd, according to LaRose, if the state legislature decided to conduct an election in August.

However, it is exceptional because a statewide special election hasn’t been held in August since 1926.

Demonstrators flood the Ohio State Capitol rotunda in May, 2023, in protest of the state's Republican supermajority pushing through Issue 1 for an August special election.Karen Kasler/Statehouse News Bureau/Ohio Public Radio
Demonstrators flood the Ohio State Capitol rotunda in May, 2023, in protest of the state’s Republican supermajority pushing through Issue 1 for an August special election. Karen Kasler/Statehouse News Bureau/Ohio Public Radio

Opponents descend on the Ohio Statehouse

Hundreds of persons opposed to raising the approval requirement to 60% gathered at the Statehouse in May as part of a sizable alliance.

Despite the objections, Republican lawmakers pressed through and even included a clause that would significantly increase the effort on organizations attempting to place amendments on the ballot.

Instead of the 44 counties required by the current statute, they would now need signatures from all 88. That would make it very hard for grassroots organizations to place amendments on the ballot in a state as large and rural as Ohio.

It’s still uncommon for citizens and interest groups to present changes to voters under the rules as they stand. Only 19 of the 172 amendments to Ohio’s constitution since 1912 were proposed by individuals or groups.

Democrats and protesters erupted in yells of “One person, one vote!” in the Ohio House chamber following the vote as Republican lawmakers with a supermajority easily carried the proposal.

The resolution’s opponents filed a lawsuit, arguing that it is unconstitutional and breaches a rule that prohibits most special elections in August. The Ohio Supreme Court held on a party-line basis that state legislators who put a constitutional amendment before voters are exempt from the statute.

Controversial referendum draws national attention

The main anti-abortion organizations, gun rights organizations, and the state’s largest business groups concerned about an impending minimum wage amendment make up the alliance for Issue 1.

The opposition is made up of union organizations, pro-abortion and pro-gun rights organizations, the four live former governors of Ohio, and five former attorneys general from both parties.

Former state representative Mike Curtin, a Democrat, has been a strong opponent of Issue 1.

“It was a rush job on a monumental question, shifting a 111-year-old right that Ohioans have had to amend their state constitution to making it darn near impossible to do so with a 60% threshold,” said Curtin.

Ohioans have turned out for early voting despite the schedule, which is in the middle of the August vacation period when turnout is generally low. Long queues have been observed in several counties, and nearly all of the $22 million in advertising spent on both sides of the debate has come from outside Ohio.

The lone question on Tuesday’s ballot is Issue 1.

Karen Kasler is Bureau Chief of the Statehouse News Bureau in Columbus, Ohio

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