Early voting on Ohio referendum high as November abortion vote hinges on outcome

Election vote ballot box Credit roibu  Shutterstock roibu / Shutterstock.

An Ohio referendum that would increase the threshold needed to adopt future constitutional amendments through ballot initiatives has surpassed a quarter of a million early votes with about two weeks left to go before Election Day.

The state constitution currently allows constitutional amendments to be adopted with a simple majority vote. This referendum, Issue 1, would amend the constitution to raise the threshold to 60% for such citizen-led initiatives. If the referendum passes, it would affect all future amendment initiatives, including an initiative to establish a right to abortion, which will be on the ballot in November.

Based on numbers provided through the secretary of state’s website, the referendum to change the constitutional amendment process has already surpassed 285,000 early votes as of July 25, which is the most recent update. Early voting began on July 11 and the turnout has far outpaced the early voting numbers from the August statewide primary election of 2022.

Election Day is on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

“Ohioans continue to show great confidence in our early voting options,” Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a July 21 statement about the high early voting numbers.

“They know we have a system of bipartisan accountability that keeps every vote secure, whether it’s cast early in person or sent in by mail,” LaRose added. “I’m especially encouraged by the level of participation in this election, proving that Ohioans had no problem participating in a statewide August election on this important issue.”

Ohio is one of 18 states that allow citizen-led referendums to amend the state constitution, although the process in one state — Mississippi — is currently on hold after a court ordered lawmakers to revise the process. Like Ohio, most of these states only require support from a majority of voters, but a handful of states require higher thresholds.

In addition to raising the threshold, the referendum would amend the constitution to require that ballot initiatives to change the constitution must receive a certain number of signatures from all 88 counties; current law only requires petitioners to meet a signature threshold in half of Ohio’s counties. It would also eliminate a 10-day grace period that allows petitioners more time to gather signatures if their original submission did not have enough valid signatures.

The referendum has support from the Republican Party of Ohio, which holds supermajorities in the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House. It’s also garnered support from pro-life organizations who seek to make it more difficult to adopt a pro-abortion constitutional amendment and from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and various business associations who hope to make it more difficult to adopt constitutional amendments that could hurt them financially.

Opposition to the referendum has come from the Democratic Party of Ohio — which holds little power in the Legislature — various unions, pro-abortion groups, and supporters of gun control, which have pushed for citizen-led constitutional amendments via referendum to push through policies that would not receive enough support in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The next proposed constitutional amendment ballot initiative that Issue 1 would affect if approved by voters would be a Nov. 7 ballot initiative to establish a constitutional right that declares “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions.”

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