On August 8, Ohioans will vote on whether to change the approval process for amending the state constitution, requiring a 60% supermajority among voters to add new amendments. Voting rights groups have ripped the ballot initiative, known as Issue 1, for diluting voter power and making it more difficult to place citizen-led legislation on the ballot. Still, conservative media and anti-abortion groups are misleading voters about its ramifications in their efforts to pass the initiative.
If approved, Issue 1 would increase the voter threshold for new amendments added to the Ohio state constitution from a simple majority to 60%, making Ohio only the fourth state in the U.S. to require a supermajority for state amendments. Issue 1 would also add greater hurdles to place potential amendments on voter ballots, increasing the amount of signatures needed to propose a constitutional amendment and erasing a 10-day grace period that allowed petitioners to collect more signatures if needed.
The Republican-backed initiative will be the only item on the Tuesday ballot, which is unusual for Ohio voters and has worried some who think the oddly timed election may reduce typical voter turnout.
Curiously, the special election comes just months before Ohio voters will weigh in on whether to add an amendment that enshrines the right to pre-viability abortion and other reproductive freedoms. And like with Issue 1, right-wing and anti-abortion groups similarly launched a dedicated campaign to misinform Ohioans about the ramifications of the constitutional amendment. But most voters say they’re in favor of an abortion rights amendment and against Issue 1.
As pro-democracy organizations and local newspapers sound the alarm about Issue 1, right-wing news outlets and anti-abortion organizations are passing off the ballot initiative as in the best interests of Ohioans because it would protect the state constitution from nefarious outside entities and asserting that Issue 1 isn’t just about abortion. However, those allegations are far from the truth and fail to explain why one of the key groups misinforming voters about the abortion amendment is doing the same with Issue 1.
Here are some of the myths being spread about the proposal – and the reality:
Myth: Out-of-state pro-abortion groups are looking to “buy their way” into amending the state constitution
- Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis said “dark money crazies” are attempting to “corrupt” Ohio politics. Gonidakis also claimed that opponents to the proposed amendment “hate ‘we the people.’” [Twitter/X, 7/27/23]
- In an article about Issue 1, the Washington Examiner quoted anti-abortion advocate and Issue 1 proponent Molly Smith, who said there’s “a giant ‘FOR SALE’ sign on” the Ohio constitution. Smith, a board member of anti-abortion group Protect Women Ohio, claimed, “Out-of-state special interest groups, like the ACLU, think they can drop into Ohio with their fat pockets and buy their way into our founding document.” [The Washington Examiner, 7/19/23]
Fact: 84% of all donations to both sides of Issue 1 campaigns have come from out-of-state donors, including an Illinois-based GOP megadonor who supports the initiative
Both supporting and opposing organizations of Issue 1 have received funding from organizations based outside of the state; according to Dayton Daily News, 84% of all donations to official Issue 1 campaigns have been contributed by out-of-state donors.
However, the “bulk of the campaign” for Issue 1 has come from Richard Uihlein, a GOP megadonor based in Illinois, according to CBS.
Uihlein is a primary funder of The Foundation for Government Accountability, a group that has been lobbying for supermajority initiatives in states across the country, including Ohio. Uihlein has also donated to organizations and candidates who deny the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Myth: Ratifying Issue 1 would preserve citizens’ rights to propose constitutional amendments, because the constitution is currently too easy to amend
- The Federalist claimed that Ohio’s constitution “has been up for sale to the highest bidder,” criticizing the ability of citizen groups to propose amendments. The article also claimed that “Issue 1 preserves citizens’ rights to propose constitutional amendments” and that “groups and individuals will still be able to get issues on the ballot and initiate changes in the Ohio Revised Code that are important to them.” [The Federalist, 5/25/23]
- Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, asserted that raising the threshold of amendment ratification would “strengthen our constitution against dangerous attacks like the ACLU’s abortion amendment.” Blackwell claimed that groups in favor of enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution “are keenly aware of our state constitution’s current vulnerability and intend to exploit it.” Blackwell also asserted that, if Issue 1 fails, “abortion activists and potentially other ill-intentioned special interest groups will continue to exploit” Ohio’s amendment proposal process. [Family Research Council, 7/16/23]
Fact: A vast majority of Ohio’s state constitution amendments have come from the General Assembly, not from citizen-proposed initiatives
Since 1913, 156 initiatives were proposed by the General Assembly, with 108 ratified; in contrast, only 71 citizen-proposed initiatives made it onto the ballot, with only 19 ratified. With the amendment threshold potentially increasing with Issue 1, it would likely become even harder for citizen-proposed initiatives to make it onto the ballot.
Additionally, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has claimed that ratifying Issue 1 could prevent corruption and bribery similar to the scheme that Larry Householder, former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, devised that allowed him to pass legislation for a $1 billion bailout for nuclear power plants owned by an ally and stifle efforts to overturn the legislation. However, as LaRose is currently under fire for possible Hatch Act violations, it’s evident that simply increasing the threshold for amendment ratification would not alleviate all of the state’s issues with corruption.
Myth: The main purpose for the amendment isn’t to make codifying abortion more difficult
- A piece in the Daily Signal, an offshoot of the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation, repeated false claims that Issue 1 would help prevent outside groups from trying to “strip parents of their rights.” Using framing from the Judicial Crisis Network, the Daily Signal fearmongered about children being able to go through gender-confirming surgeries without the consent of their parents, an exaggeration of the effects of the November abortion ballot measure. [The Daily Signal, 8/1/23]
- Similarly, the Washington Examiner repeated claims from the Ohio secretary of state asserting that Issue 1 has “never been exclusively about abortion.” The piece went on to elevate dubious claims from LaRose that suggest that Issue 1 is good for business and in line with the electoral process of other states. [Washington Examiner, 7/19/23]
Fact: The Ohio secretary of state himself admitted that ratifying Issue 1 is about complicating the potential abortion ballot measure on the November ballot
In a now-public video, LaRose is recorded stating that Issue 1 is “100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.” In addition to LaRose’s candid admission, he previously testified against August special elections, which have occurred only twice in state history.
And while Issue 1’s scope is broader than the abortion amendment, Ohio lawmakers transparently began scrambling to put Issue 1 on the ballot only in light of news of abortion advocates collecting signatures to place a reproductive rights amendment on the ballot. In closed-door meetings, proponents of Issue 1 also advised campaign allies not to discuss abortion while making their case, but rather to focus on vague worries about “protecting the constitution from special interests.”