Ohio has banned the August elections. Then the GOP planned one that could help preserve an abortion ban.
Earlier this year, Republicans in Ohio passed legislation that effectively removed the August special election from the state’s calendar, calling it an overly expensive and low turnout effort that won’t weren’t worth it.
But then, earlier this month, legislative Republicans in the state of Ohio went ahead and scheduled an election for August this year that could make it harder for right-to-right supporters to abortion to change the state constitution later.
The ballot measure currently in place for an August vote would raise the required support threshold for future state constitutional amendments to 60%. Currently, only a majority is required.
And while there’s nothing that explicitly mentions abortion, abortion rights groups argue they’re designed to make it harder for voters to pass a proposed amendment, which expected to be voted on in November that would enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution.
It’s an unmistakable contradiction that has caught the attention of activists – and now they’re suing to overturn the August special election.
“This election is illegal,” said Dr. Marcela Azevedo, president and founder of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, a group that led efforts for the November ballot measure that would legalize abortion. “Based on the decisions made earlier this year, there is no basis to hold this election, other than people’s personal agendas to prevent the abortion rights movement from succeeding.”
The suit relies heavily on the fact that the newly scheduled August special election would appear to violate statutes, signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine in January, that eliminated the scheduling of virtually all August special elections.
Proponents of the law — including DeWine and Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose — had said holding a special election in August wasn’t worth the tens of millions of dollars in cost.
“These unnecessary off-cycle elections are not good for taxpayers, election officials, or the civic health of our state. It’s time for them to go,” said LaRose, who said he was likely to run for the US Senate in 2024, testified at legislative hearings late last year.
But earlier this month, Republicans in Ohio passed a joint resolution that called for a special election on August 8 to raise the threshold for future ballot measures and impose higher thresholds for collecting signatures to propose measures. to voters.
“This is basically a brazen, cynical power grab,” said Emma Olson Sharkey, an attorney at the Elias Law Group, a Democrat-aligned firm that filed a lawsuit against this summer’s special election in the United States. Ohio. “They’re trying to change their view of this now, based on the fact that this is now what they want to happen.”
“There is no way to reconcile these arguments,” added David Fox, an associate of the same firm, who filed the complaint on behalf of the organization “One Person One Vote” which mobilizes the “no” vote. in the August elections. .
Raising the threshold for passing any future constitutional amendments would mark a major change in Ohio, where a simple majority requirement has been in place since 1912.
Four former Ohio governors, including Republicans John Kasich and Bob Taft, and five former Ohio attorneys general, including Republicans Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro, have said they oppose the measure to raise the threshold.
Republican supporters of the freshly passed measures — which, because they were passed by joint resolution, did not require the governor’s signature — said they would shield the state constitution from efforts to change it funded by “special interests” outside the state.
GOP supporters of both the January measure eliminating the August special election and the latest measure scheduling one this summer did not address the contradiction when polled by NBC News.
“While we do not comment on litigation or potential litigation, under the Ohio constitution, the general assembly has sole authority to set the time, place and manner of an election,” said LaRose spokesman Rob Nichols in a statement. “We have full confidence that the election professionals who lead our County Election Commissions will faithfully deliver another secure, accessible, and accurate election for Ohio voters.”
State Rep. Brian Stewart, who sponsored the latest joint resolution but also backed January’s bill, said in a statement there was no contradiction. He attributed his support for the January bill to concerns about the cost and participation in the more restricted local elections in August.
“That concern doesn’t exist in the context of a statewide election, which will take place in every community in Ohio,” Stewart said.
DeWine, for his part, said he supports raising the threshold required to amend the state constitution, though his spokesperson noted to NBC News that the measure calling for an August election passed without having require the governor’s signature.
“The Ohio General Assembly generally has the power to set election dates under the Ohio Constitution. The Elections Bill and this separate resolution may be considered the General Assembly of the ‘Ohio wielding that power. Our office was not a party to the resolution’, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit (along with another filed by the Elias Law Group alleging that ballot wording for the Aug. 8 election was designed to intentionally mislead voters), benefited from a process accelerated by the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The Ohio Supreme Court – on which the conservatives hold a 4-3 advantage – is expected to rule on the matter quickly.
If the August election goes as planned and voters pass the measurement threshold, the amendment proposed in November to enshrine the right to abortion would require 60% of voters to pass. If he fails in August, he will only need a majority.
The amendment proposed in November is designed to thwart Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” which came into place immediately after the Supreme Court struck down. Roe vs. Wade last summer. This law effectively bans most abortions — but includes exceptions for the pregnant woman’s health and for ectopic pregnancy — though it remains temporarily blocked by a state judge.
However, abortion rights groups aren’t holding their breath for a favorable state high court ruling and are pressing ahead with their organization on a “vote no” effort for the August ballot.
“Do I think the [state] Should the Supreme Court declare it illegal? Absolutely. I think that would be the right thing to do,” Azevedo said. “But I’m not sure they will.”
“So we have to be prepared to fully support the ‘no vote’ in August,” she said.