Ohio’s Issue 1, which would have made it harder to amend state constitution, goes down to defeat

The Republican-backed effort lost by 14 points, according to unofficial results

By: and - August 8, 2023 11:30 pm
One Person One Vote spokesman Dennis Willard introducing Deidra Reese from Ohio Unity Coalition at the ‘No’ campaign party. Nick Evans/Ohio Capital Journal)

One Person One Vote spokesman Dennis Willard introducing Deidra Reese from Ohio Unity Coalition at the ‘No’ campaign party. Nick Evans/Ohio Capital Journal)

The Republican-led effort to make amending Ohio’s constitution more difficult has failed.

As of 11:45 p.m. Eastern, unofficial results for the Aug. 8 special election show voters rejected Issue 1 57% to 43%. The Associated Press called the race at 9:00 p.m. While precincts were still reporting late into the night and absentee ballots will continue to roll in, the 14-point margin offered a resounding victory to a broad coalition of Issue 1’s opponents.

“The majority still rules in Ohio,” One Person One Vote spokesman Dennis Willard said from the podium at the ‘No’ campaign’s watch party.

Deidra Reese from Ohio Unity Coalition put it differently.

“I kept saying to my friends that we were going to beat the brakes off ‘em,” she said. “And that’s what we did, y’all.”

In addition to imposing a higher threshold for adoption, the measure would have made it much harder to put amendments on the ballot in the first place. Organizers would have faced minimum signature requirements in all 88 counties instead of the current 44-county benchmark.

Those vast implications and supporters’ transparent intention to undermine an upcoming abortion rights amendment scrambled the map. Although statehouse Republicans were able to lean on substantial supermajorities to place Issue 1 on the ballot, their effort played out in fits and starts.

They first failed to secure the necessary votes in the final days of last year’s session. The ordeal was ugly enough it cost the man tapped to be the next House speaker his gavel.

Then Speaker Jason Stephens slow-walked the proposal past the deadline for May’s primary election, but supporters weren’t done. They aimed instead for August and proposed legislation undoing a prohibition on such elections they’d approved just months earlier. That legislation eventually died in committee, but lawmakers decided to schedule an August election anyway by writing it into their resolution.

In a split decision the Ohio Supreme Court allowed it to go forward.

The saga tested loyalties among traditional conservative allies. Some groups sat out — remaining neutral or even voicing opposition. Others held their noses and grasped for any justification other than fighting reproductive rights.

It tested party loyalties as well. Supporters’ claims that a higher threshold would “protect” Ohio’s constitution, weren’t able to overcome the knee-jerk reaction against its anti-majoritarian changes.

The No party

As early returns rolled in, people milled around a firefighters union banquet hall in Columbus. They balanced paper plates loaded with party cut pizza and salad, awkwardly sneaking in bites between greetings. There was an excited hum as they repeatedly updated election trackers on their phones. About an hour after polls closed, the One Person One Vote coalition declared victory.

Willard said voters saw Issue 1 for what it was.

“A deceptive power grab, designed to silence our voices and diminish our voting power,” he said. “We defeated Issue 1 because an enormous coalition that spans ideological divides came together to defend democracy.”

Representatives from that coalition — firefighters, organized labor, advocates for reproductive rights, and minority voters — joined Willard on the podium. Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro called it the “biggest, baddest, broadest, most diverse nonpartisan grassroots coalition.”

“More than 200 organizations said no way are we letting Issue 1 pass,” DiMauro told the crowd. “They didn’t just say no, they said…” The crowd roared out the “hell no” DiMauro was looking for.

Dr. Marcela Azevedo, co-founder of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights. (Nick Evans/Ohio Capital Journal)
Dr. Marcela Azevedo, co-founder of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights. (Nick Evans/Ohio Capital Journal)

The AFL-CIO’s Tim Burga called out the “hypocrisy and dishonesty” behind the proposal. Dr. Marcela Azevedo — Issue 1’s chief target as part of the group that put an abortion rights measure on the ballot — praised the “overwhelming” enthusiasm among opponents.

The Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights leader agued, “The unprecedented turnout truly demonstrates that Ohioans are passionate about protecting their own rights, and also protecting their ability to self-govern.”

Looking forward, Ohio Democratic Party chair Liz Walters crystalized what the outcome means for voters.

“This fall, Ohioans will have a chance to stand up about reproductive rights in the state,” she said, referencing the abortion rights amendment appearing on November’s ballot.

“They’ll have a chance to tell these same out of touch politicians that health care choices belong to families, not to politicians,” she added.

The Yes campaign

The mood was subdued at the Ohio GOP Protect our Constitution Vote Yes watch event hosted by Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima.

“I’m personally very disappointed,” he said. “I think it’s a question that was worth asking of the voters, not only because of the two issues that are on the ballot in November, but the six to 10 that are planned over the next couple of years. … The question really is, are we going to allow our constitution to be amended on a regular basis.”

Huffman didn’t hold back on spreading the blame.

“One thing that hurt us in the election was the length of time of the campaign,” he said.

Huffman said they would have had a better chance of passing the amendment had it been on the May ballot.

“Until May 10, we didn’t know there was a campaign,” Huffman said. “So it took us a long time to put the campaign together to execute the campaign.”

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Ohio Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, speak to the media about the results of the August special election on Aug. 8, 2023. (Megan Henry/Ohio Capital Journal.)
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Ohio Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, speak to the media about the results of the August special election on Aug. 8, 2023. (Megan Henry/Ohio Capital Journal.)

He also pointed the finger at Ohio Republicans who opposed Issue 1 — including former Govs. John Kasich and Bob Taft and former Ohio Republican Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

“There were some key folks on our side of the aisle, Republicans, especially who actively oppose this, some pretty vociferously,” Huffman said.

He said the Ohio GOP will likely try to make it harder to amend the constitution again.

“But perhaps not in the same kind of atmosphere that we have had over the past 10 or 12 months,” Huffman said.

Ohio Representative Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, said Ohio’s voting maps showed the urban and rural counties were divided over Issue 1.

“What we’re looking at here in the state are issues that we need to bring people together instead of being divisive,” he said. “And I think, you know, as we move forward, those are the kinds of things we have to look at.”

Despite Tuesday’s election results, Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said he feels great about the November election.

“When you have weed and you have abortion on the ballot in November, we’re going to solidify our conservative base here in Ohio and vote no on both of them this November,” he said.

Recreational marijuana may be on Ohio’s November ballot as a proposed law, not amendment. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol originally didn’t submit enough valid signatures, but they submitted additional signatures last week during the 10-cure period.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, said they are now focusing on the November election.

“As a 100% pro-life conservative, we must defeat Issue 1 on November 7 to stop abortion from being a part of our state’s constitution,” he said.

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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.

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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.

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