On the Ground In Ohio
Ohio Makes the News!
Florida and Texas suck all that MAGA air out of the news, so the shenanigans that Republicans pull in Ohio seem to go under the radar much of the time. We did make national news with our recent defeat of Issue 1, which would have made troublesome changes in what it takes to get a proposed amendment to our state Constitution on the ballot and passed.
It’s worth reviewing what led up to that vote on Issue 1 and how it came about. Even Ohio voters were confused by all the maneuvers that state Republicans pulled in their efforts to keep a pro-choice amendment from passing in November. (That’s right…the defeat of Issue 1 was just the first step. We still have to get our amendment passed in November.)
So, what, exactly, was Issue 1, how did it get on the ballot, and what does it have to do with an election to get a pro-choice amendment to Ohio’s Constitution passed? Believe me, it’s not an easy story to unravel; most of Ohio found it all confusing and even we activists had to go over the particulars any number of times to be sure we had it all straight.
No More August Special Elections
Our story begins in the fall of 2021, when Ohio’s Republican-controlled Congress proposed a bill that would seem to have little to do with constitutional amendments. Rather, that bill was one of many passed by election denying legislators across the country that suppressed voting in a variety of creative and harmful ways. (Perhaps the worst among them in that was the limit of one drop box per county. And the drop box would be available only during business hours. Cuyahoga County has over 800K registered voters. AuGlaize County has just over 32K voters.) At that, these were just bells and whistles attached to the primary purpose of the bill…to prohibit August special elections in the state. “They’re too expensive and turnout is always low,” claimed Ohio Republicans. “That means, important issues might be passed or defeated based on just a few voters that don’t really represent the sentiments of all Ohio citizens.”
No More Rights For Women
In the meantime, over a period of three years, the Republicans passed three…yes, three…different anti-abortion bills. In 2019, Ohio passed a “heartbeat bill”, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.That bill did include an exception to save the life of the woman, but no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. In May 2019, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law from taking effect.
Two years later, another anti-abortion bill was passed. This one was a “trigger law”, designed to take effect if Roe v Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court.
The following year, the Ohio House passed yet another “trigger bill” that banned all abortions except those that would save the life of the mother.
The reversal of Roe v Wade kicked the trigger laws into action; suddenly most abortions in Ohio were prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. (The story of the 10-year old who became pregnant after being raped who was forced to travel to Indiana to have the pregnancy terminated made national news.)
But that wasn’t enough for the anti-woman culture warriors. It seemed that each of them wanted to get his or her own name on one bill or another. One proposal was modeled after the Texas bill that allows citizens to narc on their neighbors who they suspect of thinking about getting an abortion. Another bill would have required physicians to lie to their patients, telling them that medication abortions can be reversed. Most of these bills ran into problems but Ohio’s Republicans were falling over themselves to see who could get the most draconian anti-abortion bill passed.
But, Wait…There Might Be a Way Out of This Mess!
In the midst of the fevered rush to impose great cruelties on Ohio women, Democrats in the state legislature began an effort to amend the state’s constitution through the legislature. The amendment would guarantee the right to reproductive freedom, including access to abortion, contraception and infertility care.
That effort was fruitless given that Democrats don’t hold a majority in the House or the Senate much less the two thirds majority needed to pass an amendment.
In February 2023, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights and Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom submitted ballot language for a constitutional amendment that would protect abortion access. That submission kicked off a large petition drive throughout the state.
Ohio’s rules for getting a citizen-driven amendment on the ballot are a bit complicated. A number of signatures equivalent to 10% of the total vote cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election must be gathered. In Ohio, that’s generally more than 400,000 signatures.
But that’s not all. Proponents of the amendment must gather signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties. There are other rules and policies but these two are the most important.
Here in Summit County, our Indivisible group began gathering signatures in earnest. We (and many other groups) posted ourselves with petitions at just about any gathering of 10 or more people through the spring and summer. Across the state, more than 700K signatures were gathered. So, we got our amendment on the ballot for November!
Republicans try to pull a fast one
One might expect that the right wing extremists would gear up to get their voters out so as to defeat those godless abortionists in November…if one were unaware of the history of duplicity among those right wing extremists.
Rather than “leave it up to the voters”, the right wing decided to attempt a flanking move. They put together a scheme to pass their own amendment to the Constitution that would change the rules for citizen efforts to get amendments on the ballot and for the amendment to pass. They wanted an increase in the number for passage from 50%+1 to 60% of the votes. And they wanted to raise this bar for the November vote.
They also wanted to make it harder to get an amendment on the ballot to begin with; a minimum number of signatures would be needed from all 88 counties. (The rule had been 44 counties.) But that change wouldn’t take effect until after the November election.
So, they wanted to make this amendment harder to pass and any subsequent amendment harder to get onto the ballot in the first place. Any astute observer will recognize this as the “moving of goalposts” that the right wing has gained a lot of practice at over the past decade or so.
When the Ohio Congress wants to get an amendment on the ballot, they don’t have to mess around with that signature gathering. They just vote on it and…done. They do need to get 60% of the votes but the extremists have supermajorities in both houses, so that wasn’t a problem. Their real challenge was getting the new rules (the mandate for the 60% margin for passage, especially) in place before the November 2023 election.
Remember the part about how the Republican legislature voted to prohibit August special elections? Well, at this point, they realized that an August special election was just what they needed to get their amendment passed that would make subsequent amendments harder to pass. So, less than a year after voting to prohibit August elections because they’re too expensive and on and on, they voted to…ALLOW August elections!
All to say that, after gathering signatures for petitions for several months in support of a pro-choice amendment, we were faced with defeating the Republican effort to pass Issue 1, which would raise the bar for passing the amendment. So we got to work, sending postcards and letters to voters, writing letters to the editor, passing out signs, canvassing, and phone/text banking.
Our opponents spent millions of out-of-state dollars to buy ads accusing our side of…spending millions of out-of-state dollars to buy ads. In the end, our postcards, phone calls, and ads worked and theirs didn’t. Issue 1 was defeated in that August election. The rules for getting amendments on the ballot and passing them stay the same.
Now, we have the November election in front of us. This time, we’re working to persuade all the folks who voted “No!” on Issue 1 to vote “Yes!” on our amendment. So, it’s back to work! We have the wind at our backs; polls indicate that protecting choice is favored in the red state of Ohio. We’re not taking anything for granted, though…there’s lots of canvassing and phone banking to do but we’re up for it. We know all of you wish us well.