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Democracy in Ohio ain’t dead yet -- voters ensured that yesterday by overwhelmingly rejecting Issue 1. The people’s right to democratically amend the Ohio Constitution prevailed despite relentless attacks from far-right schemers and big business owners.

As of the morning after the election (August 9), the unofficial results from the Secretary of State (who, it should be noted, campaigned hard for Issue 1 to pass) show 1,315,346 votes in favor of Issue 1 and 1,744,094 against – showing that overwhelming 57 percent of voters said “hell no” to the Statehouse power grab.

These results are quite a debacle for Ohio Republicans. In January, they made August Special Elections illegal. They argued that, especially due to low turnout, elections in August were a “waste of money.”

Despite this, Issue 1 was scheduled for this August in an attempt to save their abortion ban. By doing this, Republicans went against their own word to run an election they had just denounced. The $20 million estimated cost of running a special election clearly did not deter them when their power was at stake. While they were right about August special elections being a waste of money, they were determinedly wrong about turnout. Ohioans showed up in incredible numbers to reject this desperate attempt to entrench oligarchy.

The unofficial Ohio Secretary of State results showed that 3,059,440 voters turned out in this election. To give some comparisons, in the 2022 November general election (a mid-term election), 4,201,368 ballots were cast to determine Ohio’s next US senator and who would sit in the statewide executive offices: governor, secretary of state, etc.

Mid-term elections are usually better at turnout – people usually do pay attention to elections when federal offices are at stake – so perhaps the August 2022 election is a better comparison. There, only 638,708 voters showed up to the polls for a primary election created after the redistricting debacle of 2022. Primary elections are usually much lower in turnout so this isn’t surprising, but the election being in August was also discussed as being a reason for the low turnout. That’s what makes the 3 million voters at this year’s election really incredible.

Issue 1 was literally the only thing on the ballot for every single voter; no local issues were added and nothing else existed at the statewide level. People who showed up to vote were there only for Issue 1 and, despite it being an abnormal time to vote and dropping on the voters at the last minute, 38 percent of registered voters showed up and Issue 1 lost by almost 15 percent. Despite everything else going on in our lives, no one can say Ohioans aren’t paying attention.

What truly makes this an embarrassment for Ohio Republicans, however, isn’t just that they lost in the state generally, but that they lost in many counties where they historically do very well. On top of that list is Delaware County, a county that has supported Republicans for decades, maybe even the past 100 years. This time Issue 1 was rejected by 58 percent of the voters. Recently, Delaware has been if not overwhelmingly Republican at least strongly so. Both Vance and Trump won Delaware County with 53 percent of the vote. In 2020, the Columbus Dispatch called Delaware County “reliably red.” Yesterday they lost it by more than 12,000 votes. Ouch.

Republican losses continued in northeast Ohio: Stark, Mahoning, Portage, Geauga, Lake, Trumbull, and Ashtabula counties, each going for both Vance in 2022 and Trump in 2020, all rejected Issue 1; and it really wasn’t even close. Fifty-nine percent of Lake County voters said “no” to Issue 1 (Vance won with 55 percent; Trump with 56 percent). Mahoning and Portage counties voted 58 percent against it (Mahoning was actually close in the other elections, but Portage went 53 percent Vance and 56 percent Trump). Issue 1 failed in Trumbull County at 57 percent (it went 54 percent for Vance and 55 percent for Trump). The other counties (Stark, Geauga, and Ashtabula) were much closer with 52 percent rejecting Issue 1, but each of them were strong Vance/Trump counties in previous years (Geauga and Ashtabula went 59 percent Vance and 61 percent Trump while Stark went 58 percent for Vance and 59 percent for Trump).

This pattern happened along Lake Erie too: both Erie and Wood counties, both going with Vance and Trump, rejected Issue 1. In Erie, 57 percent said “no” (Vance won with 53 percent and Trump 55 percent) while Wood went 56 percent against Issue 1 (Vance got 52 percent and Trump 53 percent). These counties were closer in the 2020/2022 elections than some of those in northeast Ohio, but these are still flips.

This should be a big wake-up call for Ohio Republicans. Now they know democracy and abortion access is important to the state’s citizens, and even places they probably don’t even think about losing showed up in force to reject attempts to stifle both. Kellie Copeland of Pro-Choice Ohio wrote: "I’m in awe of the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast their vote to send a message, loud and clear, to Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the extremists in the state legislature that their effort to undermine our democracy was ill-conceived and Ohioans will not stand for it."

This should create some pretty high hopes for November. Issue 1 was tied to the reproductive rights ballot measure coming this November from both sides, for and against. Republicans explicitly said this was about keeping abortion out of the Constitution, and Democrats were not blind to that fact. 

Despite some late-night framing by Republicans blaming “out of state money” or “not having enough time to campaign” (said the guy who scheduled the election himself!), Issue 1 was obviously about making the November abortion amendment impossible to pass. Other issues were at stake too, including a marijuana legalization amendment also coming this November (a $15 minimum wage and an end to qualified immunity are coming in later years), but Issue 1 was undoubtedly about abortion. It should be pretty clear where Ohio stands.

Those of us who understand that abortion is a human right still have a lot of work to do – November shouldn’t be taken for granted – but the overwhelming victorious first battle should absolutely be celebrated. Ohioans are not ready to hand over their rights to the state quite yet, but lots of work needs to be done to ensure that. 3 million voters in August means November should be quite the turnout for an “off-year” (friendly reminder that there are no off-years), but if we really want to maintain our rghts we should aim for a turnout matching the 2020 election of 6 million voters. If we can, we should strive to have 60 percent of voters approve abortion rights in Ohio’s constitution.

Other counties worth honorable mention

Because I love elections and data is cool, let’s look at some other counties that, while not overwhelming, still rejected Issue 1 in some pretty interesting ways. Greene County, the current home of Mike DeWine himself and usually a strong Republican county (60 percent for Vance and 59 percent for Trump) rejected Issue 1 with 50.45 percent saying “no.” Less than 500 votes pushed Greene County over the edge. Just north in Clark County, another strong Republican base (a whopping 61 percent for both Trump and Vance) one voter pushed Clark County to be a “no” county. One vote. Close elections like this are a lot of fun.

Another close flip occurred in northern Ohio in Ottawa County. The county went a strong 58 percent for Vance and 61 percent for Trump, yet rejected Issue 1 with 51 percent of the vote (6,817 “No” to 6,476 ”Yes”).

In some other counties considered “suburban,” overwhelming Republican victories in 2020 and 2022 got quite close last night. Butler County, just north of Cincinnati, Issue 1 was approved with less than 500 votes (44,384 for and 43,855 against). This is a county both Vance and Trump won with more than 60 percent of the vote. That’s really not a good sign for Republicans this November.

Sadly, Clermont (east of Hamilton) did not follow suit (54 percent approved Issue 1). Union County, just northwest of Columbus where some of Dublin spills over, was an incredibly close 50.89 percent “yes” vote (9,967 against 9,617 “no”). Fairfield County, southeast of Columbus where some of Reynoldsburg sits, was also a close 50.48 percent “yes” (21,456       in favor to 21,046 against). Sadly, Licking County, which Democrats had some hopes of turning blue in the coming years, went 52 percent in favor of Issue 1. The central Ohio counties surrounding Franklin shouldn’t be discounted and abandoned, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

A lot has been said over the past few years about what suburban voters were going to do in the new, post-Trump era of American politics. With respect to abortion, I think it’s pretty clear: the suburbs are not as anti-abortion as Republicans would like them to be, and that may be a big problem if they want to keep Ohio from becoming purple again. Democrats should remember this, even if abortion is enshrined in the state constitution – the fight for abortion at the federal level is far from over.