Ohio voters defeat GOP measure to raise referendum threshold

Voters in Ohio on Tuesday handily defeated a measure put forward by Republican lawmakers to make it more difficult for voters to amend the state constitution. State Issue 1, which would have raised the threshold for passing citizen-proposed amendments to 60%, from 50% plus one, failed 57% to 43% with nearly all votes counted. The measure would have also required signatures from 5% of voters in all 88 Ohio counties, from 44, and ended a 10-day period to fix signature problems.

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Turnout was high for a typically sleepy one-issue August election, with more than 2.8 million Ohioans casing ballots. Opposition to the measure was widespread, passing even in some traditionally Republican areas and counties that voted for former President Donald Trump. 

“Tonight is a major victory for democracy in Ohio,” Dennis Willard, a spokesman for opposition campaign One Person One Vote, said at a jubilant Tuesday night watch party. “The majority still rules in Ohio.”

One main animating force behind the election was abortion: The GOP-led Legislature, which passed a six-week abortion ban, scheduled the vote only after it became clear abortion rights groups would get enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights up to about 24 weeks on the November ballot. Polls suggest that amendment would pass with about 58% of the vote.

Republican officials who pushed the measure and anti-abortion groups blamed their defeat on insufficient time to mount a proper campaign and the rush of money funding the opposition campaign. At least $32.5 million was spent in the battle over Issue 1, split roughly evenly between supporters and opponents, The New York Times reported, citing Ballotpedia estimates. “Eight in 10 dollars came from donors outside Ohio.”

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“It is a sad day for Ohio and a warning for pro-life states across the nation,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a national group that spent $6.4 million to support Issue 1, said in a statement. “Millions of dollars and liberal dark money flooded Ohio to ensure they have a path to buy their extreme policies in a pro-life state.” A conservative mega-donor from Illinois, Richard Uinlien, donated about $4 million to the yes campaign. 

Major supporters of the no side include the Sixteen Thirty Fund out of Washington, D.C., at $2.64 million, and the Tides Foundation in California, which donated $1.88 million.

Issue 1’s defeat is another strong sign that strict abortion bans are a “strategic liability for the GOP,” Aaron Blake wrote at The Washington Post. But it also appears “voters don’t like having power taken out of their hands.” South Dakota and Arkansas voters similarly rejected attempts last year to raise the threshold for referendums to 60 percent.

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