Ohio voters on Tuesday decisively rejected a Republican-authored measure that would have made it more difficult to amend the state constitution through the ballot initiative process, a billionaire-funded effort aimed at preempting a November vote on abortion rights.
If approved by voters, the measure known as Issue 1 would have raised the threshold for passage of a constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60%. The measure also would have imposed more stringent signature requirements for Ohio ballot initiatives.
The GOP proposal—which was the only item on the ballot in Tuesday’s special election—failed by a vote of 43% to 57%, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
“Issue 1 was a blatant attempt by its supporters to control both the policy agenda and the process of direct democracy,” said Rachael Belz, the CEO of Ohio Citizen Action, one of the groups that mobilized in opposition to the proposal. “When they forced Issue 1 onto the ballot, they awakened a sleeping giant and unleashed a movement. And that movement isn’t going away tomorrow. It will continue to build and grow and to carry us through to victories in November and beyond.”
The Republican push for Issue 1 drew national attention given the implications for both the democratic process and reproductive rights in Ohio, where abortion is currently legal through 22 weeks of pregnancy—though the state GOP is working to change that.
A proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November would codify the right to abortion access in the Ohio constitution, stating that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”
Frank LaRose, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and a U.S. Senate hopeful, said in June that Issue 1 was ” 100% about” preventing passage of the abortion rights amendment.
Recent polling indicates that around 58% of Ohioans back the proposed amendment—a level of support that would have been insufficient had Issue 1 succeeded.
“From defeating Issue 1 tonight to submitting nearly twice the amount of signatures needed to get a measure protecting abortion access on the ballot in November, Ohio voters have made clear that they will settle for nothing less than reproductive freedom for all,” Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement late Tuesday.
“Republicans should be ashamed of their efforts to subvert the will of voters,” Timmaraju added. “Seeing this measure defeated is a victory for our fundamental rights and our democracy. We’re grateful to our partners on the ground for their tireless efforts to secure abortion rights and access. We look forward to fighting by their side to lock this fundamental freedom into law in November.”
The Republican attack on the ballot initiative process in Ohio is part of a nationwide GOP effort to limit direct democracy as the party—emboldened by the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court—continues its effort to roll back abortion rights and other freedoms.
According to a March tally by election analyst Stephen Wolf, Republicans have recently tried to make it harder to pass citizen-led ballot initiatives in at least 10 states, including Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.
“In the many states where the GOP has refused to take action, activists have used ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, secure abortion rights, protect the right to vote, curb gerrymandering, legalize marijuana, promote gun safety, and more,” Wolf wrote. “How have Republicans reacted to this? By trying to make it harder to pass initiatives in the first place.”
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, said Tuesday that “since 1912, Ohioans have had the right to collect signatures and bring proposed constitutional amendments directly to voters.”
“This is an important check on the state legislature, hyperpartisan politicians, and special interests who did everything they could to take away that right,” Turcer added. “It was the hard work and resilience of Ohioans of all parties that prevented the destruction of a foundational right we’ve held for 110+ years.”
“Tonight’s results,” Turcer said, “are a resounding victory for Ohio voters who helped stop this power grab by the state legislature and Secretary of State Frank LaRose.”
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