Ohio voters rejected a ballot measure on Tuesday that would have required a 60 percent supermajority to amend the State Constitution, a proposal designed by Republicans to prevent voters from preserving abortion rights through a constitutional amendment in November.
Here are four takeaways from the vote.
Abortion rights is a turnout engine …
If anyone doubted the message that voters have been sending in election after election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Ohioans underscored it once more on Tuesday: Voters are highly motivated by abortion. They have repeatedly supported abortion rights even in red states, and have turned out to say so even on typically low-turnout primary dates.
That was clear in Kansas a year ago, when voters in a highly Republican state overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed legislators to ban abortion. It was clear in November, when abortion-related questions were on the ballot in five states with different political leanings, and all five states voted in favor of abortion rights. It was clear this April, when a majority of voters in closely divided Wisconsin elected a liberal Supreme Court justice who had run on her support for abortion rights.
And now it is clear in Ohio, where voters turned out in much larger numbers than is normal in an August election, and voted against the amendment by 14 percentage points in a state that voted for Donald J. Trump in 2020 by about eight points.
On a legislative level, abortion opponents continue to have the upper hand, passing near-total bans in many states. But electorally, the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, which overturned Roe, has changed the game.
Opponents of abortion, who previously drove turnout for Republicans, are no longer doing so reliably. Supporters of abortion rights — many of whom were previously complacent, thinking Roe would never fall — are now energized.
And people in the middle, seeing the real-world results of what was once theoretical, are supporting abortion more in surveys and weighing it more heavily in their voting decisions.
… and Republicans are struggling to adjust.
Republicans are very aware of how much the politics of abortion have changed. But they haven’t figured out how to deal with it.
It is obvious that by continuing to pursue bans or major restrictions on abortion, they are motivating Democrats to vote and turning off swing voters. But deciding not to pursue those restrictions anymore would anger many of their own supporters.
After all, Republicans have long relied on voters for whom banning abortion is a top priority — conservative evangelicals, for instance — for exactly the sort of enthusiastic base turnout that Democrats are now enjoying.
This dilemma is playing out in the Republican presidential primary.
Some candidates — including Mr. Trump and his highest-polling challenger, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida — have made gestures, albeit inconsistent ones, toward leaving the issue of abortion to the states to decide. That has drawn the ire of powerful anti-abortion groups like Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which has said it will not support any candidate who doesn’t endorse, at a minimum, a federal ban after 15 weeks’ gestation.
Other candidates, like Senator Tim Scott and former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, have said they would sign a 15-week ban but have tried to avoid talking about it much. Only former Vice President Mike Pence has made abortion a focus of his campaign.
Democracy arguments are potent.
Voters showed that they support direct expressions of their democratic power, even if they would not normally support Democratic candidates or causes.
Republicans in Ohio presented the proposed constitutional amendment as a way to protect Ohio’s laws from the influence of wealthy out-of-state donors and interest groups. But those arguments didn’t prevail.
In large numbers, voters understood the proposal to be specifically about making it harder to pass an abortion-rights amendment in November, not broadly about improving the amendment process. They saw it as “underhanded,” in the words of one voter — an effort to achieve one thing under the guise of another.
Some of them also disliked the fact that Republican legislators had put the measure on the ballot in August, a summer vacation month when turnout is usually very low — especially given that some of the same legislators had just passed a law to ban most August special elections for exactly that reason.
Broadly, voters are responding when they believe their own voting power is under threat. These sorts of objections were part of the same pattern as voters’ rejection of candidates in the midterms who denied the results of the 2020 election.
Ballot measures will remain important.
With Roe v. Wade overturned and Democrats in a divided Congress unable to restore its protections nationally, referendums and constitutional amendments are one of the few mechanisms available to supporters of abortion rights in red states. And they are taking advantage.
Not every state allows ballot measures. But already, in just over a year since the Dobbs ruling, voters have used them to express support for abortion rights in three Republican-led states: Kansas, Kentucky and Montana. A fourth will be on the ballot in Ohio in November, and because of Tuesday’s results, it will require only a simple majority to pass.
Several other states that have significant abortion restrictions, or could soon, allow citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives and therefore present potential targets for supporters of abortion rights. Supporters in Florida are likely to place a referendum on the ballot in 2024; it would require 60 percent of the vote to pass. Arizona and Missouri could have similar proposals, but they are not certain.
Those three states alone are home to more than 10 percent of the country’s population.
Maggie Astor is a reporter covering live news and U.S. politics. She has also reported on climate, the coronavirus and disinformation. More about Maggie Astor
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