Ohio voters delivered a resounding rejection to a Republican-backed measure on Tuesday that aimed to make it more challenging to change the state's constitution. The outcome sets the stage for a fall campaign that will become the nation's most recent referendum on abortion rights following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn nationwide protections last year.
The defeat of Issue 1 means that Ohio will retain its simple majority threshold for passing future constitutional amendments. Supporters of the measure had advocated for raising the threshold to a 60% supermajority, emphasizing that it would help safeguard the state's foundational document from the influence of outside interest groups.
Although abortion itself was not directly at stake in this special election, the result represents yet another setback for Republicans in a conservative-leaning state who have been pushing for stricter restrictions on the procedure. Ohio Republicans strategically placed the question on the summer ballot in an attempt to undermine a citizen initiative scheduled for November that seeks to solidify abortion rights within the state.
Contrary to Ohio's outcome, other states that have addressed abortion rights since last year's Supreme Court ruling have chosen to protect them. This includes traditionally conservative states like Kansas and Kentucky.
The special election garnered significant attention, despite Republicans disregarding their own law earlier this year when they moved to place the question on the August ballot. Ahead of Tuesday's final day of voting, nearly 700,000 early in-person and mail ballots were cast by voters, more than double the number typically seen in a primary election. Early voter turnout was especially high in the counties surrounding Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati—areas known for leaning Democrat.
One Person One Vote: A Coalition for Voting Rights
The opposition campaign, known as One Person One Vote, brought together a diverse and bipartisan coalition of voting rights, labor, faith, and community groups. This grassroots movement also gained the support of four living ex-governors and five former state attorneys general from both political parties. These prominent figures denounced the proposed change as bad public policy.
The long-standing simple majority standard, which has been in place since 1912, poses a more manageable challenge for Ohioans for Reproductive Rights. This group is working to advance an abortion rights amendment that will appear on the November ballot. The amendment aims to establish "a fundamental right to reproductive freedom" while still allowing for reasonable limits.
Throughout the country, voters in various states have approved ballot questions in support of protecting access to abortion since the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade. However, these measures typically pass with less than 60% of the vote. Last year, AP VoteCast polling in Ohio revealed that 59% of voters believe that abortion should generally be legal.
Advocates on both sides of the issue heavily relied on outside funding and the support of national organizations during their campaigns.
Notably, the outcome of this proposal emerged from an August special election. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is also running for a U.S. Senate seat, previously criticized such elections as undemocratic due to historically low turnout. Interestingly, Republican lawmakers had passed a law last year to largely eliminate these special elections, but they chose to disregard it for this year's election.
The rejection of this proposal serves as a rare rebuke for Ohio Republicans, who have held power across every branch of state government for the past 12 years.
Despite this setback, Ohio Right to Life, the state's oldest and largest anti-abortion group and a significant driving force behind the special election measure, remains committed to continuing their fight into the fall.