Early votes cast in Ohio August election are blowing expectations out of the water

By: - July 24, 2023 4:55 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — MAY 10: Hundreds of protesters against what became Issue 1 fill the rotunda before the Ohio House session, May 10, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Early voting figures for the Ohio Aug. 8 special election are surpassing even the most optimistic expectations. Through seven days of early voting more than 116,000 Ohioans have shown up at their local board to cast a ballot. Another 38,000 have absentee ballots have made their way in as well.

As Secretary of State Frank LaRose noted in a press release, it represents a “five-fold increase” in compared to last year’s August election.

For additional context, the sum total of early in-person votes cast in last year’s May primary election — which included a hotly contested GOP U.S. Senate primary — was only about 138,000. The current trajectory of early in-person votes is on track with or even surpassing the 2022 general election. Through nine days of early voting, roughly 136,000 voters cast a ballot for last November’s election. That’s only about 20,000 more than the votes compiled so far in seven days. On average, another 16,000 ballots are cast each day polls are open.

The constitutional amendment, Issue 1, has apparently struck a chord with Ohio voters. The proposal would raise the threshold to pass any future amendment from a simple majority to 60%. In addition, it would require initiative backers meet signature requirements in all 88 counties rather than the current 44-county standard. Also, organizers would only get one shot, as the amendment eliminates the period for making up any shortfall in signatures.

Critics blasted Republican lawmakers for advancing their constitutional amendment, Issue 1, during a traditionally low turn-out, odd-year special election. They further criticized lawmakers for reversing course on a law passed just months earlier abandoning August elections.

The measure got the required votes in the Statehouse to make the ballot without a single Democrat’s support. Many of the proposal’s backers — though not all — were animated by an attempt to thwart a potential abortion rights amendment in November. Meanwhile, Issue 1’s opponents include a vast array of state and local organizations as well as current and former politicians from both sides of the aisle.

Campaign response

One Person One Vote spokesman Dennis Willard said they’re “encouraged” by the early vote totals.

“Extreme politicians are trying to sneak this $20 million special election for special interests past the voters but it’s not working,” he said. “Voters are foiling their plans because Ohioans are outraged, are showing up early requesting absentee ballots and voting no on Issue 1.”

The League of Women Voters of Ohio has made no secret of its opposition to Issue 1. But the non-partisan organization’s officials were a bit more circumspect about the early voting numbers. Policy affairs manager Nazek Hapasha described her reaction as “cautiously optimistic,” and insisted they’ll continue working “until the last moment” to encourage voters to weigh in.

She emphasized how unprecedented it is to put a constitutional amendment before voters in a special election.

“When I spoke to boards of elections from around the state, about expectations, I was getting turnout numbers anywhere from 8% to more than 50%,” she said. “So even boards of elections were all over the place in terms of their expectations.”

Issue 1 supporters meanwhile remain confident. Spokesman Spencer Gross insisted, “when Ohioans hear the facts about Issue 1, they strongly support it, because they want to protect our constitution against the very type of big money, out-of-state influence we have been seeing from the no side.”

Notably, right-wing Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein has put more than $1 million behind the yes campaign.

Good omens and bad

Digging into the county level turnout figures, both sides can find reasons for optimism. Reliably blue counties like Franklin, Hamilton and Cuyahoga have seen the biggest turn out thus far. Lucas, Lorain, Summit and Montgomery counties, all of which went for Democrat Tim Ryan in last year’s Senate race, made the top ten. But Republican leaning Butler, Medina and Delaware counties round it out.

Delaware and Medina Counties are both punching above their weight. Of the top ten counties for turnout, they’re the only two that fall outside the 2020 census’ ten most populous counties.

Recent polling however suggests strong Republican turnout might not be that helpful for Issue 1 proponents.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll found Ohioans oppose Issue 1 by a more than 2 to 1 margin. Pollsters found just 26% of respondents support the proposal as opposed to 57% against it. Another 17% of respondents were undecided. The survey of 500 likely Ohio voters carries a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.

The demographic data doesn’t get much better for the Yes on 1 campaign. Majorities in every age group, region and income bracket oppose the idea. Even gun owners — a group they hoped to bring onside with warnings of gun control amendments — reject Issue 1 by almost 30 points.

There were only two subsets in the entire survey where supporters got to 50%. But those categories were so narrow that the number of respondents was in the single digits. Among those who told pollsters they’d vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen (six) or the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins (two) in the 2024 presidential election, half support issue 1.

The yes on 1 spokesman brushed it off.

“Though the multiple millions spent by special interests on false ads against Issue 1 has impacted the media’s polling,” Gross said. “Our polling shows that the momentum our grassroots campaign is building across all 88 counties of the state will show up in force on Election Day.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.