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Updated Aug 8, 2023, 9:57pm EDT
politics

Ohio voters shoot down ‘Issue 1,’ clearing way for abortion rights vote

Adam Cairns/USA Today Network via REUTERS
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The News

Ohio voters rejected a Republican-backed change to their constitution on Tuesday, making the November passage of an abortion rights amendment more likely.

Issue 1, which would have raised the threshold for voter-passed amendments from a simple majority to 60%, lost badly in the state’s biggest cities and suburbs. While voters in the reddest and most rural parts of the state voted yes, the “no” campaign prevailed even in some places that had trended toward Republicans over the last decade, like northeast Ohio.

“People saw through the extreme MAGA effort to suppress the vote,” said Rep. Shontel Brown, a Democrat who represents Cleveland, where the amendment was failing by a 5-1 margin. “People saw through their misinformation.”

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The no campaign — organized as the One Person, One Vote coalition — narrowly out-spent the yes campaign, with ads that accused the GOP of wanting to take power from voters and hand it to themselves. The yes campaign, backed by anti-abortion groups and the state Chamber of Commerce, warned that liberal groups would push their agenda into the constitution if voters didn’t stop them.

“They can’t get things done in the state legislature because Ohio’s become a conservative state,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told Semafor in the election’s final days, as he barnstormed for Issue 1. “We’ve caught on to their game and we’re doing something about it.”

Other Republicans campaigned for the measure, with defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake rallying on the ground and Mike Pence recording a get-out-the-vote message. But the measure’s defeat was a particular setback for LaRose, who launched a bid for U.S. Senate while the campaign was underway.

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David’s view

Democrats have done unusually well in special elections this year, buoyed by a base of college-educated voters who are turning out for everything. That’s especially true when abortion is on the ballot — and the savvy “no” campaign hoped voters saw it that way.

You saw this play out in Athens County, home to Ohio University, and one of the first places to fully report its votes. Democrat Tim Ryan won it by 20 points last year while losing the U.S. Senate race to Republican J.D. Vance. Issue 1 lost the county by 42 points.

The “no” side didn’t just consist of Democrats. It got crucial support from retired Republicans like John Kasich, who were uncomfortable with their successors making it prohibitively hard to amend the state constitution — even if, in the short term, doing so would hurt liberals.

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But abortion rights advocates won the overall argument, exploiting a remark LaRose made to Seneca County Republicans in June: “This is 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.”

The pro-Issue 1 side tried multiple overlapping messages, warning that liberals would try to pass amendments that ripped qualified immunity away from police and let children get gender-reassignment surgery without parental consent (a claim based on what fact checkers have described as a misleading reading of the abortion initiative).

But that quote, and the timing of the election — just three months before the abortion rights vote — dragged them down. Before the election, one of LaRose’s U.S. Senate rivals, Bernie Moreno, said that the secretary of state had “screwed up the messaging.”

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The View From An Anti-Abortion Group

In a statement, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America blamed the failed vote on “the silence of the establishment and business community in Ohio,” and urged Republicans to redouble their efforts to counter liberal groups.

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The View From Abortion Rights Advocates

In Ohio, abortion rights advocates turned to their next challenge: Winning in November. “Ohioans will turn their focus to rejecting extremism and government control to ensure families have the freedom to make decisions that are best for them,” said Rhiannon Carnes, the spokeswoman for Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights.

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The View From Democrats

The president, who hadn’t taken a stand on Issue 1, celebrated the defeat on Tuesday. “This measure was a blatant attempt to weaken voters’ voices and further erode the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions,” Biden said in a statement. “Ohioans spoke loud and clear, and tonight democracy won.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee predicted “Republicans’ deeply unpopular war on women’s rights will cost them district after district,” and promised to keep focusing on the issue.

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Notable

Since the Dobbs decision last year, anti-abortion activists have lost related ballot measures in every state they’ve been on the ballot. The defeats range from deep blue Vermont, to purple Michigan, to historically ruby red Kansas.

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