Ohio voters on Tuesday will decide on a ballot measure to make it harder to amend the state constitution, a change conservatives say is needed to protect the state from a radical anti-gun, abortion and education agenda that could soon find its way to other states.
It’s an issue that has already prompted a massive early vote turnout – one that has some election offices straining to manage the load.
“This is gubernatorial-level turnout,” said Regine Johnson, deputy director of the board of elections in Stark County.
As of Wednesday, more than 533,000 people had voted by mail or in person since early voting began July 11, according to data collected by the Associated Press. That’s nearly double the final early voting figures for Ohio’s two previous midterm primary elections, which included races for governor and Congress.
Today, ballot measures to amend the Ohio Constitution need only 50% plus one vote to pass. But if State Issue 1 passes, that threshold would be raised to 60% – conservatives say this change is needed to protect the state from outside groups who want to alter the state’s constitution.
“At its core, it’s about keeping out-of-state special interest groups from buying their way into our constitution, which we’re seeing happen far too often,” Amy Natoce, press secretary for Protect Women Ohio, told Fox News Digital. “They’re circumventing the legislative process and going directly after the constitution.”
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Ohio voters on Tuesday will decide on a ballot measure to make it harder to amend the state constitution. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Democrat opponents have made the argument that the ballot measure would take away power from voters and give it to politicians.
“The purpose of Issue 1 is to silence the majority of Ohioans, and subject us to the policy preferences of a small group of extremists who have secured the favor of our unconstitutionally gerrymandered legislature,” the ACLU wrote about the measure earlier this year.
“Just look at how Issue 1 supporters are framing their argument. They deem their effort the ‘Protect Ohio’s Constitution’ campaign. In fairness, they are desperately attempting to protect our Constitution,” the group added. “The key question is, from whom are they protecting our Constitution? The answer is – a majority of Ohioans.”
But Mehek Cooke, an Ohio attorney and Republican political consultant, told Fox News Digital the ACLU is putting out a “deceitful message.”
“They’re lying to Ohio voters when they say that we are taking their vote away,” said Cooke, who said the goal is to prevent outside groups from influencing the state. “We’re actually empowering Ohioans.”
“The constitution is truly for the structure of government and then fundamental rights, not policies. I believe that’s the place for the legislature. So, I feel very strongly as a mom but also a business owner and an attorney that we need to protect a strict analysis of our constitution and not allow these outside groups to dictate what works in Ohio.”
Natoce also said that some of the biggest opponents of State Issue 1, including the ACLU and the Ohio Democratic Party, have internal rules in their organizations that require a 60% threshold for actions such as removing board members, endorsing candidates and amending their own constitutions. Cooke said the change would put Ohio more in line with other states that have higher thresholds for changing the constitution.
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State Issue 1 would take effect immediately if passed, which means that a November ballot measure that would enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution would need 60% voter approval, not 50% plus one.
Critics of that abortion measure say it is written in such an expansive and ambiguous way, including not mentioning the words “woman” or “adult,” that it would take away parental rights when it comes to sex change surgeries and abortions for minors.
An attendee holds a Rosary as she prays during a “Rosary rally” organized by Catholics for Catholics on Aug. 6, 2023, in Norwood, Ohio. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
The proposed amendment states that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”
Protect Women Ohio has committed $25 million in ads in opposition of the amendment. One of the advertisements released in May includes video of President Biden stating, “There’s no such thing as someone else’s child,” and ends by warning, “They’re coming for your parental rights.”
Democrats have focused largely on abortion in their opposition to State Issue 1, but Cooke told Fox News Digital that progressives will attempt to strip away gun rights as well as the rights of parents in classrooms and other issues in states across the country.
Cooke and Natoce said Democrat Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has signaled a plan to push gun control changes to the constitution.
“We can use our real political power to change the culture of guns in this state. It starts by voting no on Issue 1, by the way, to make sure we can maybe put a ballot measure on our state constitution to have commonsense gun reform,” Bibb said.
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A group of people protests outside the Ohio State House in Columbus. (Reuters/Seth Herald)
State Issue 1 would also eliminate the 10-day cure period during which citizen-led campaigns may submit additional signatures if they fall short the first time; it would also increase the number of counties where signatures must be collected from 44 to all 88. But those provisions would come too late to affect the abortion issue, which has already faced both legal and administrative hurdles and is now set for a vote in November.
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Polling in July showed that voters are split on the issue, with 42% saying they are a “yes” on State Issue 1, 41% are saying they are a “no” and 16% are neutral.
The Associated Press and Fox News Digital’s Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.