On August 8, Ohioans headed to the polls for a special election. An election in August? How unusual! Yes, highly unusual – and indeed, even more so given that just last December, the Ohio Legislature voted to abolish most August special elections on the grounds that their notoriously low turnouts are, as the Secretary of State explained, “bad news for the civic health of our state.”
So, what explains the Buckeye State’s abrupt about-face on August special elections? It can be summed up in one word: Abortion. Reproductive rights activists in Ohio recently launched a grassroots effort to put on the November ballot a ballot initiative that would enshrine in Ohio’s constitution protections for a broad array of reproductive rights, including abortion. These activists have succeeded in amassing the required number of signatures to put the proposal before the voters in Ohio’s November election. And critically, recent polling suggested that the measure was on track to succeed – a majority of Ohioans supported it.
Which is why Republicans in the Ohio state legislature decided to take action, reinstating August special elections so that they could put a different ballot measure before the voters. This new measure, called Issue 1, would completely alter the rules for using ballot initiatives to amend the Ohio constitution. If Issue 1 succeeded in August, those seeking to use ballot measures to amend the state constitution would have to collect signatures from all Ohio counties, not just half of the counties, as had previously been the rule. And more importantly, in order for a ballot initiative to succeed, it would have to secure 60 percent of the vote – up from the 50 percent that had previously been required.