Opposition to Ohio's Issue 1 galvanizes disparate Northeast Ohio groups ahead of August election
More than a dozen union workers are gathered in the basement of a laborer’s hall in Midtown Cleveland, hunched over postcards they’re diligently handwriting to more than 50,000 other union workers in the region.
Their message? Vote No on Issue 1 in Ohio’s upcoming special election.
The issue up for a vote next month is galvanizing a coalition of labor activists, people who advocate for recreational marijuana, want to raise the minimum wage, support racial justice issues and want to expand voting rights, according to political observers.
Issue 1 would make it harder for citizens to amend the state’s constitution: raising the bar from 50% to 60% approval and requiring signatures from people in all 88 counties instead of just 44.
"This issue is just the beginning of a defeat of a lot of issues, especially women's reproductive rights, the right to work and a lot of more things, so I feel it's important," said W. Dean Hudson, a retired employee of the Communications Workers of America and a precinct committeeperson. “A lot of people don’t even know about this election, that’s why it’s paramount that we get these cards out."
Hudson's been to several of these postcard-writing events so far, and she’s also mailed informational literature to her neighbors and plans to make phone calls to voters in the state.
“A lot of people don't even know about this election, so that's why it's paramount that we get these cards out, make phone calls and whatever we can do to make people aware," Hudson said.
Dozens of activists and advocacy groups have been working to get the word out about the upcoming special August 8 election. Off-season special elections have historically low voter turnouts, the most recent of which only reeled in about 8% of voters statewide.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has no idea what to expect but is prepping for a high turnout just in case, said Outreach manager Mike West.
“There’s really no other election to compare it to," he said. "It’s a statewide election. There’s a lot of publicity surrounding the election, but it's still an August election which traditionally is low turnout because people have a lot of distractions.”
Getting a high voter turnout is key to defeating Issue One, said Northeast Ohio’s AFL-CIO labor union political director Brian Pearson. He equates defeating the bill with protecting democracy, especially after state congressional maps adopted last year were repeatedly struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court for being unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
“We currently have maps that are unconstitutional so we don’t have representative government so this is like our last tool in the toolbox,” Pearson said.
There's a feeling among groups that oppose Issue 1 that the changes could pose a threat to many groups' interests going forward, activists said.
"We understand that it may be abortion rights now, but it’ll be workers’ rights next. We know we’re on the menu," said Cleveland Teachers' Union President Shari Obrenski.
Workers in Cleveland, which has among the most labor unions of anywhere else in the state, are also canvassing, door knocking and making phone calls as part of a larger statewide effort to reach at least 250,000 union households.
It’s not just Democrats who oppose efforts to make it harder to amend the constitution, said Kayla Griffin, the statewide coordinator of All Voting is Local. She said she’s talked to Republicans who are also concerned.
“We are seeing that both Republicans and Democrats are upset with this," she said. "People across the aisles do not want their rights encroached upon."
Four of Ohio’s previous governors — two Democrats and two Republicans — oppose the issue.
Meanwhile, supporters of the issue say the bar should be higher to make changes. That coalition, including endorsements from groups like Ohio Right to Life, the Buckeye Firearms Initiative, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, say Issue 1 is necessary to protect the state’s constitution from out-of-state interest groups.
Protect Our Constitution, a group advocating for Issue 1, did not respond to requests for comment.
Early voting begins in Cuyahoga County on Tuesday, July 11.