Ohioans are heading to the polls today to cast their ballots on a controversial proposal that could make it harder to amend the state constitution in the future. The measure, known as Issue 1, is backed by Republicans who say it will protect the constitution from being changed by out-of-state interests and wealthy donors. However, opponents argue that it will undermine the power of the people and make it nearly impossible to pass reforms on issues such as abortion, voting rights, and health care.
What is Issue 1 and why is it on the ballot?
Issue 1 is a constitutional amendment that would raise the threshold for passing future constitutional amendments from a simple majority of 50% plus one vote to a supermajority of 60%. It would also require that any initiative petition to amend the constitution be signed by at least 5% of the voters in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, instead of the current requirement of 44 counties.
The proposal was put on the ballot by the Republican-controlled legislature in May, after a group called Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom filed a petition to place an amendment on the November ballot that would protect the right to an abortion in the state constitution. The group collected more than 600,000 signatures, surpassing the required number of 442,958.
Republicans say that Issue 1 is necessary to prevent liberal activists from using the ballot initiative process to bypass the legislature and impose their agenda on Ohioans. They point out that Ohio’s constitution has been amended more than 200 times since it was adopted in 1851, and that some of the amendments have been funded by out-of-state groups or individuals with deep pockets.
For example, in 2015, Ohio voters rejected a proposal to legalize marijuana that was backed by a group of investors who stood to benefit from owning the exclusive rights to grow and sell the drug. In 2018, Ohio voters also rejected a proposal to reduce penalties for drug offenders that was funded by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.
Supporters of Issue 1 say that raising the bar for amending the constitution will ensure that any changes have broad support from Ohioans across the state and reflect their values and interests.
How do opponents of Issue 1 view the measure?
Opponents of Issue 1 say that it is an attempt by Republicans to rig the system in their favor and block any progressive reforms that they disagree with. They argue that Issue 1 will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary citizens to exercise their right to direct democracy and hold their elected officials accountable.
They point out that requiring signatures from 5% of voters in each county would mean that some counties would have more influence than others, since some counties have much smaller populations than others. For example, Vinton County has about 13,000 residents, while Franklin County has about 1.3 million. This means that a signature from Vinton County would be worth about 100 times more than a signature from Franklin County.
Opponents also say that requiring a supermajority of 60% to pass an amendment would give a minority of voters veto power over the majority. They note that only four of the last 20 amendments passed by Ohio voters since 1995 would have met this threshold. Some of the amendments that would have failed include banning same-sex marriage in 2004, expanding gambling in 2009, and creating an independent redistricting commission in 2015.
Opponents of Issue 1 say that it is especially dangerous at a time when Ohioans are facing multiple challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis, and racial injustice. They say that Issue 1 would prevent Ohioans from addressing these issues through the ballot box and leave them at the mercy of a legislature that is dominated by one party and gerrymandered districts.
What are the implications of Issue 1 for abortion rights?
One of the main reasons why Issue 1 has attracted national attention is because it could have a significant impact on abortion rights in Ohio. If Issue 1 passes, it could make it harder for abortion-rights supporters to pass their proposed amendment in November, which would declare that “the right to bodily autonomy is inviolable” and “no law or rule shall prohibit or interfere with this right”.
The amendment is seen as a preemptive measure against a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade by the US supreme court, which could allow states to ban or restrict abortion. Ohio already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, including a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a mandatory waiting period of 24 hours, and parental consent for minors.
If Issue 1 fails, however, it could give abortion-rights supporters a boost in their campaign to pass their amendment in November. They say that their amendment would protect not only abortion access, but also other aspects of reproductive health care such as contraception, fertility treatments, and gender-affirming care.
According to recent polls, Ohioans are divided on Issue 1, with about 40% in favor, 40% opposed, and 20% undecided. The outcome of the vote could have lasting consequences for the future of democracy and abortion rights in Ohio.