Ohio voters have delivered a blow to the Republican-led effort to make it harder to amend the state’s constitution through ballot initiatives. On Tuesday, they overwhelmingly rejected Issue 1, a measure that would have increased the signature requirements and shortened the time frame for collecting them for proposed constitutional amendments.
Issue 1: A GOP Power Grab
Issue 1 was widely seen as a power grab by the GOP, which controls both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office. The measure was designed to make it more difficult for citizens to bypass the legislature and enact constitutional changes on issues such as abortion rights, redistricting, marijuana legalization, and minimum wage.
The measure would have required petitioners to collect signatures from at least 10% of the total number of voters in the last gubernatorial election, up from the current 8%. It would have also reduced the time period for collecting signatures from one year to 180 days. Additionally, it would have required the approval of at least 60% of voters to adopt a constitutional amendment, up from the current simple majority.
Supporters of Issue 1 argued that it would protect the state’s constitution from being amended too easily and too often by special interests. They claimed that Ohio’s constitution is one of the longest and most amended in the nation, and that it should be reserved for fundamental principles, not policy issues.
Opponents of Issue 1 countered that it would undermine the people’s right to direct democracy and make it nearly impossible for grassroots movements to qualify for the ballot. They pointed out that Ohio’s constitution has been amended only 10 times in the past decade, and that most of those amendments were approved by bipartisan majorities. They also accused the GOP of trying to stifle the voice of the voters on issues that they disagree with or refuse to address.
A Victory for Abortion Rights Advocates
The results in Tuesday’s special election were a crucial victory for abortion rights advocates, who seek a November referendum to enshrine abortion access into state law. The referendum, known as Issue 2, would declare that “the right of Ohioans to make personal decisions about their reproductive health care is inviolate and fundamental” and prohibit any laws or regulations that “interfere with or restrict access to abortion care”.
Issue 2 was launched in response to the passage of a bill in December 2020 that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The bill, which was signed by Republican Governor Mike DeWine, is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country and does not include exceptions for rape or incest. It is currently blocked by a federal court order.
If Issue 1 had passed, it would have made it harder for Issue 2 supporters to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. It would have also raised the bar for voter approval from 50% to 60%. With Issue 1 defeated, abortion rights advocates are hopeful that they can mobilize enough support to protect abortion access in Ohio, especially in light of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that could overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade.
A Setback for GOP Gerrymandering
The rejection of Issue 1 was also a setback for GOP gerrymandering in Ohio, which has been challenged by multiple lawsuits and court rulings. In January, the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s new congressional map as a Republican gerrymander that violates the state constitution. The court ordered the GOP-controlled legislature to draw a new map that “is not dictated by partisan considerations” in the next 30 days.
The court also invalidated state legislative districts Republicans had redrawn without Democratic support as improperly favoring the GOP. The court said that both maps violated the constitutional amendments that voters approved in 2015 and 2018 to limit partisan gerrymandering and ensure fair representation.
Despite these rulings, Republicans have maneuvered to keep both the congressional and state legislative maps in place for this fall’s election. They have argued that there is not enough time to redraw the maps before the filing deadline and that changing them would cause confusion and disruption for candidates and voters. They have also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and block the state court orders.
However, with Issue 1 defeated, Republicans may face more pressure and scrutiny to comply with the state constitution and respect the will of the voters. Issue 1 was seen as another attempt by the GOP to rig the system in their favor and prevent citizens from holding them accountable through ballot initiatives. By rejecting Issue 1, Ohio voters have sent a clear message that they value their right to direct democracy and fair representation.