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Northeast Ohio reacts to defeat of State Issue 1

A no on Issue 1 yard sign over a large rock
Annie Wu
Ideastream Public Media
In a special election on Aug. 8, 2023, Ohio voters decided whether to raise the bar for amending the state constitution from 50% to 60% voter approval.

Ohio voters on Tuesday voted down a statewide ballot measure that would have made it more difficult to amend the state constitution.

The Associated Press called the race a little less than an hour and a half after the polls closed.

With more than 90% of the vote counted late Tuesday night, more than 1.6 million no votes had been tallied for Issue 1, nearly 400,000 more than the yes vote according to the Associated Press.

"Ohio voters are tired of being told what to do and tired of being controlled by out-of-touch politicians who are not listening to us," said Kayla Griffin, the state director for All Voting is Local and the president of Cleveland's NAACP chapter. "That is clear when we have issues that cross our party lines. This was a huge showing that we had counties like Cuyahoga County and Chillicothe vote no on this issue."

State Issue 1 would have amended the state constitution to require a new 60% passage rate of for amendments proposed by citizen petitions, by the General Assembly and by constitutional conventions. Currently, a simply majority of 50% + 1 is required to pass a statewide issue. That simple majority requirement has been in place since 1912, according to the League of Women Voters.

But Issue 1 would have done more than just raise the share of the vote necessary to win passage.

It would have amended the Ohio constitution to require the number of signatures for petitions for citizen-initiated amendments to equal 10% of the votes in the last governor’s election and 5% of the governor’s vote in all 88 Ohio counties. Currently, to get an issue on the ballot petitioners must collect signatures equal to at least 10% of the votes in the last governor’s election and 5% of the governor’s vote in 44 counties.

It also would have eliminated the 10-day “cure period” during which signatures on petitions for citizen-initiated amendments that are determined to be inadequate may be updated. Sometimes signatures do not pass muster because of changes of addresses on the voting rolls or for other reasons.

"[The results] speak to what a ridiculous power grab this was," said Northeast Ohio’s AFL-CIO labor union political director Brian Pearson.

In Shaker Heights, Katie Paris hosted a watch party for 18 women who helped gather signatures for the reproductive rights amendment. Paris is the founder of the left-leaning suburban women political engagement group Red Wine & Blue.

"This has been such an organic effort. I mean, it's quite something to have to go up against the machine in August in an odd year election," Paris said as she headed out the door. She was leaving her own party to head to a broadcast studio downtown. "MSNBC called," she said.

Since 2012, there have been 11 statewide issues on the ballot in Ohio, according to historical election data from the Ohio Secretary of State. Voters approved six of those issues — five of those won approval with 60% or more of the vote, an Ideastream analysis of election results shows.

Among measures that passed with the higher share of the vote were the 2015 amendment that created a bipartisan, public process for drawing legislative districts and the 2022 issue that required courts to consider factors like public safety when setting the amount of bail.

The only statewide issue to pass without meeting the 60% threshold was an anti-monopoly amendment in 2015 designed to protect the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit, the Secretary of State's data shows.

State Issue 1 is broadly understood to be an attempt to make it more difficult for abortion rights supporters to pass a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access.

"Knowing we cleared this hurdle and we’re on our way to November, being able to pass a constitutional amendment that will guarantee we won’t go back to [the Heartbeat Bill], that Ohio families will be able to make their own reproductive decisions ... that's huge," said Kellie Copeland, the executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, headquartered in Greater Cleveland.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, abortion-related policies have been a topic for statewide ballot measures across the country.

In 2022, voters in six states decided ballot measures addressing abortion — the most on record for a single year, according to Ballotopedia, the online encyclopedia of American politics. Voters chose to establish or uphold abortion rights in all six states, California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont, where ballot measures appeared.

"I'm sure that this bodes very, very well for the amendment passing in November. And that's going to be the best thing that can happen for the women of Ohio," said Dr. David Burkons, owner and medical director of Northeast Ohio Women's Center, an abortion clinic in Cuyahoga Falls.

Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chair Lisa Stickan, who also serves on the Board of Elections, said she is grateful for such a large turnout and discussion about the Ohio's constitution but hopes the buck doesn't stop here when it comes to increasing what she calls protections of the state's guiding document.was

Stickan said she thinks the abortion discussion is separate from Issue 1 and believes that affected the results.

"I think people are confusing the issues or what the issues meant or didn’t mean and connecting them," Stickan said. "The initial discussion on raising the threshold … this has been something we have off and on discussed. There was connecting of the two and I think that colored the results from tonight."

Voters in Ohio will weigh in on the abortion issue in November in what promises to be a contentious election.

Updated: August 8, 2023 at 11:09 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.
Expertise: Hosting live radio, writing and producing newscasts, Downtown Cleveland, reporting on abortion, fibersheds, New York City subway system, coffee