Democracy trumps MAGA as Ohio voters reject rights-curbing measure
Deidra Reese, statewide program manager for the Ohio Unity Coalition, celebrates voters' rejection of Issue 1 on Tuesday evening in Columbus. | Jay LaPrete / AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio—In a victory for democracy and abortion rights, Ohio voters, in a heavy turnout in the middle of “the dog days of August,” defeated a right-wing-pushed state constitutional amendment that, if passed, would have permanently ended a woman’s right to choose in that state.

With 99% of precincts reporting, the measure, Issue 1, lost by double digits, 43%- 57%, by almost 428,000 votes out of 3.33 million cast. Amendment foes carried every county along the Lake Erie shore, not just the Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo metro areas, but even solidly Republican counties in between and on the Michigan border.

They also carried the Columbus and Cincinnati metro areas, a string of rural counties between them, plus one southeastern county bordering the Ohio River.

It is significant that the vote against MAGA extremism was big in suburban and ex-urban counties. The vote for democracy was so big, in fact, that it may herald the formation of a coalition to turn Ohio blue. It was clear that the GOP has gone too far with its right-wing extremism and its attack on abortion rights as Ohioans joined voters in numerous other states, including Kansas and Kentucky, who backed abortion rights whenever it was on the ballot.

Butler County, the home of Trump sycophant Republican Sen. J.D. Vance, voted against the right-wing measure as did voters in many other Red counties. In many other Red counties, the vote was really close.

The coalition that won in Ohio yesterday is saying, essentially, “Tonight we went on defense but tomorrow we go on offense to win abortion rights.

“Tonight is a major victory for democracy in Ohio,” Dennis Willard, spokesman for the Issue 1 foes, gathered in a “One Person, One Vote” coalition, told a happy crowd at their watch party, CNN reported. “The majority still rules in Ohio.”

The turnout was so heavy that 696,000 voters cast ballots in advance, beating the former record for an off-year vote, set last year when the state had a hard-fought U.S. Senate race. Even the winner then, anti-abortion Republican right-winger J.D. Vance, lost his home county, in that rural corridor, this time.

The pro-abortion win not only defeated the right-wingers’ scheme to make it tougher for citizens to put referendums on the ballot, and to pass them but marked the second time in 12 years that a Republican right-wing plot in the Buckeye State fell victim to the voters. The defeated amendment would have changed the state constitution to require a 60 percent vote of the public to amend it, rather than the simple majority now required. It was a scheme to defeat an amendment this coming November that will enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Based on the results of yesterday’s election it is expected now that abortion rights will become the law in Ohio after the November election, ending the horror shows like one in which a raped child had to leave the state to receive care.

The first time Republicans tried a scheme like the one that went down yesterday was when the gerrymandered Republican-run legislature passed a right-to-work law, and voters, led by organized labor, put it on the ballot in November 2011. Labor then got voters to clobber it, 62-38%, by more than 828,000 votes out of 3.6 million cast.

This time, the state labor federation was again part of the winning coalition against the radical right. Its message was that this ballot measure, Issue 1, to make referendums harder, was “undemocratic, unfair, unpopular, and unnecessary.”

Former conservative GOP Gov. John Kasich, who backed RTW but opposed this right-wing intrigue, reminded listeners about that defeat in a post-election interview with CNN. Then, the state federation’s anti-RTW slogan was simple, too: “Right to work is wrong.”

“I’ve experienced that firsthand, having policies backed by myself and a majority of the legislature’s members overturned at the ballot box, and it never occurred to me to try to limit Ohioans’ right” to make referendums harder. “It wouldn’t have been right then, and it isn’t right now,” he said.

Both sides in the multi-million-dollar fight realized the referendum on Issue 1 was a proxy for a November ballot battle over the proposed constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights in the state’s basic charter. Right-wing lobbies, including the gun lobby and anti-abortionists, backed Issue 1.

Ohio voters celebrate the defeat of the Republican-backed Issue 1 at a watch party in Columbus Tuesday night. | Jay LaPrete / AP

Had Buckeye State voters approved Issue 1 by a simple majority, that pro-abortion constitutional amendment would have made this fall’s ballot, but it would have needed 60% of votes to pass—a figure that pro-abortion forces, while winning popular votes in state after state, blue, purple or red, had never reached. Now, any Ohio referendum will need only a simple majority, 50%+1, to succeed.

All the statewide pro-abortion votes defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling in June 2022, eliminating the national constitutional right to an abortion—and setting off a mad rush in Republican-run states, including Ohio, to completely ban it.

But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court’s Republican-named five-person majority, also said abortion should be left to Congress and/or the states. Seven states, including Ohio, have voted. Abortion rights supporters have gone seven-for-seven. Nationally, voters back abortion rights 2-to-1 or more.

In Ohio, the right wing realized their only hope of winning a referendum on an enormously unpopular issue was to hold the vote in the middle of summer’s heat and depend on a depressed turnout. They tried the same thing in deep-red Kansas, two months after Dobbs. The right-wing legislative majority planned to strip abortion rights out of the state constitution. That went to the voters last August. It lost 45%-55%.

The Ohio fight isn’t over yet, and the high spending on the issue will go on between now and November. The two sides spent an estimated $27 million on TV and other ads, much of it hysterical warnings about “baby killers” and the like from the radical right.

But the defeat of Issue 1 means the abortion constitutional amendment itself will go before Ohio voters this November, needing only a simple majority to pass.

In celebrating this win, NARAL Pro-Choice America noted the first statewide opinion poll on that Ohio constitutional amendment shows it leading by a 58%-32% margin, “including a third of Republicans and a stunning 85% of independent woman voters, a key bloc.”

Nevertheless, abortion supporters and foes both will quickly have to flip their messages, with abortion supporters urging a “yes” vote In November to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Meanwhile, Ohio voters will ready themselves for another slugfest.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.