Early voting begins for Issue 1 asking to make it harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution
A poll worker helps guide a voter at the Franklin County early voting center. (Photo by Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal)
Early voting began Tuesday for Issue 1, the amendment on the August 8 ballot requiring all future Ohio Constitutional amendments clear 60% for passage. Lawmakers put the proposal on the ballot, and they’ve faced criticism from the outset. Opponents argued — correctly — that lawmakers wanted to change the rules in order to undermine an abortion rights amendment.
Critics questioned the timing as well. The last time voters considered a constitutional amendment in August, Babe Ruth played for the Yankees, and the team had only won a single World Series. Lawmakers had also voted to do away with August elections just months prior.
More to the point, opponents criticized the move because August elections usually have exceptionally low turnout. In the most recent August election, turnout averaged just 8% statewide.
But early indications suggest this August won’t be quite that anemic.
At the Franklin County Board of Elections Tuesday morning, the line stretched to about 50 people out the door. It pales in comparison to lines for presidential elections stretching the far end of the parking lot and then snaking back and forth in untidy rows. Still, a steady stream of new arrivals kept pace with the voters heading in to cast their ballots.
By early afternoon, they’d moved 1,000 voters through the doors.
In line, voters weren’t shy about their opinions. A woman named Nancy from Hilliard called the proposal “asinine.”
“It’s just a total waste of taxpayer money,” she added, “and it’s just one party’s way of suppressing the others’ votes, you know, and it’s just ridiculous.”
Further back, a pair of women named Toni and Carol were chatting while they waited. Toni explained she showed up first thing to “get in, get it in, and get it on over with.” But she passed the question about her opinion of the issue to Carol. She chuckled at being put on the spot and said, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” with Toni chiming in at the end in agreement.
“And plus,” Carol went on, “it’s an underlying motive to do it, and I’m tired of being manipulated.”
In the parking lot away from the building, several Democratic officials held a press conference deriding the amendment.
“It’s undemocratic, it is un-American and the people of Ohio are going to deem it unacceptable starting today, and every day until August 8,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said.
“Here’s the bottom line, as polarized and as divided as America is, when was the last time Dick Celeste, Bob Taft, Ted Strickland and John Kasich all agreed on something?” Ginther added, in a nod to the past four Ohio governors, two Democrats and two Republicans, all coming out in opposition to the proposal.
“That tells you how lousy this is,” Ginther said.
Franklin County is one of the state’s bluest. Given the amount of local organizing against the proposal, and its partisan split — no Democrats voted for it — opposition is unsurprising. But the level of interest in an ordinarily ho-hum August election, is.
Board of Elections supervisor Aaron Sellers explained they’ve seen a significant uptick in absentee ballot requests.
“I think it’s something like 10,200 and some ballots that have been requested that will begin hitting the mail, being taken to the post office today,” he explained.
For context, he compared that to last August when general assembly candidates held their primaries.
“It’s kind of an apples and oranges, but last August at this time we mailed out about 400 absentee ballots,” Sellers said. One significant reason for that disparity, he explained, is that many races last August were uncontested primary elections.
Comparing 10,000-plus initial requests to a presidential general election — the highest turnout the board sees — Sellers recalled sending a first batch of 50,000-60,000 absentee requests.
Early voting continues in every county Monday to Friday through August 4. That weekend, August 5th and 6th, boards will host early voting as well. After that, however, voters’ only chance to weigh in is at their polling location August 8.
Sellers warned polling locations will be changing for a small share of Franklin County voters. The late addition of an August election to the calendar meant some polling sites weren’t available. Instead of 307 locations, Sellers said, they’ll have 282. In total it represents about 7% of the county electorate and the board will be mailing notices to affected voters.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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