On Tuesday, Issue 1 will come before Ohio voters in a rare August election — a critical vote that has flown under the radar of many political observers.
The measure would raise the threshold needed to amend the state’s constitution from a simple majority of the state’s voters to 60 percent, and it would require signatures from all 88 counties — up from 44 now — in order to put a referendum on the ballot.
The proposal does not specifically address abortion, but it has quickly become a proxy for the nationwide debate over abortion, with the states given more latitude over this issue now than at any point since Roe v. Wade.
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The stakes for both sides grew in July when state officials announced that a separate ballot measure that would establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” in the state constitution had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. At issue is whether that proposed amendment would require a simple majority or the higher 60% threshold to ensure passage.
Plus, each side has acknowledged Issue 1’s capacity to affect the state’s abortion laws.
“It’s 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” State Secretary Frank LaRose, a Republican, reportedly told supporters in May.
LaRose also acknowledged broader motivations, including democracy reform. “If this is about one specific issue, then somebody’s not really focused on what we’re trying to accomplish here,” LaRose reportedly said.
Supporters want Issue 1 to protect the ballot from well-funded special interests. Opponents view the measure as an obstacle to passing popular reforms.
Meanwhile, the Left has been trying to alert its deflated base in an increasingly conservative state.
“It’s just a math question,” Yasmin Radjy, an executive at Swing Left, told national media. “Can you reach enough people on a short timeline?”
In other words, Radjy intends to sway this election by raising awareness.
However, the polls have shown mixed findings.
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A poll from USA Today and Suffolk University found 58 percent of residents opposed Issue 1, and an Ohio Northern University poll considered the race a tossup, with 42 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed.
Plus, the state has gone more than 100 years without an August vote on a ballot initiative, according to a count by The Columbus Dispatch. With a low turnout looking likely, the electorate has become unpredictable.
As of June 16, there were 6.6 million active voters registered in Ohio. The state does not register voters by party. Turnout in the 2022 general election was 51% of registered voters. Turnout for two statewide ballot measures in 2017 was 29% of registered voters.
The state reported more than 533,000 votes cast in advance as of Wednesday, including more than 176,000 mail ballots returned and 356,000 early in-person ballots cast. The state sent out almost 272,000 absentee ballots to voters. In the 2022 general election, almost 1.5 million Ohioans voted before Election Day, or about 35% of the electorate.
Polls close statewide at 7:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.