Today, Ohio voters will decide whether to pass two ballot measures. Issue 1, formally titled “The Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety,” would modify the state constitution to enshrine access to contraception, fertility treatment, and “the right to abortion up to the point of fetal viability” — the same standard that applied under Roe v. Wade. Issue 2, formally called the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative,” would legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
November’s Issue 1 follows a previous ballot question this August, confusingly also called Issue 1. August’s Issue 1 sought to raise the threshold for amending the state constitution via ballot question from a simple majority of votes to 60%. This was widely seen as an effort by Ohio Republicans to block the passage of today’s referendum: polls consistently showed support for a measure codifying the right to abortion into the state constitution among a large majority of voters, but falling short of 60%. The August measure, widely viewed as a proxy for the pro-life position on abortion, ultimately failed 57-43. The November measure is likely to pas: publicly available polling generally has the “for” side in the mid-to-high fifties, and proponents of the measure have an $8 million spending advantage on air, according to AdImpact politics.
However, there are a couple of complicating factors. First, voters may be fatigued only three months after the earlier referendum. Polls might also be overstating the level of support for Issue 1: research has generally found that voters are more likely to answer “yes” in a poll than they are to vote in the affirmative in a referendum due to acquiescence bias. This time around, the “yes” side represents the pro-choice position, whereas in August, voting “no” was the proxy for protecting abortion rights, which may confuse voters, especially since both measures are called “Issue 1.” Finally, the summary on voter’s ballots, written by Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican who opposes abortion and pushed for the August referendum, arguably misrepresents the substance of the proposal. According to the New York Times, the amendment explicitly allows for a ban on abortion after 23 weeks of pregnancy unless one “is necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health” — but LaRose’s summary states that the amendment “would always allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability.”
Ohio previously legalized medical cannabis and decriminalized recreational use in 2016 via legislation. Issue 2 would allow adults over the age of 21 to purchase, possess, and consume marijuana recreationally; adults would also be able to grow up to six plants per person, or twelve plants per residence, at home for personal use. If passed, the initiative would establish a new office within the Ohio Department of Commerce to regulate the sale of marijuana and specify how the tax revenue would be spent: 36% for “social equity” and jobs programs, 36% would allocated to communities located near dispensaries; 25% towards education and addiction treatment programs; and 3% towards administrative costs. Issue 2 is also likely to pass: polling generally has support for the measure in the high fifties, and marijuana legalization is broadly popular with voters, who have approved of pro-legalization referenda in several other red states over the last few years.
The best case against Issue 2 is that pro-legalization voters, dissatisfied that the measure does not expunge past marijuana convictions, might not turn out given that medical use is already legal and recreational use is already decriminalized. But many of them are likely to turn out anyway for Issue 1, and it’s possible that some pro-life voters might cross over and vote “yes” on Issue 2. (Because Issue 2 is not a constitutional amendment, if the measure passes only narrowly, it is theoretically possible that Republicans in the state legislature vote to overturn it.) According to Medium Buying, the “No” side has spent a total of just over $400,000 on ads.
A brief note on 2024: the passage of both measures — but especially Issue 1 — might make Sen. Sherrod Brown’s path to re-election more difficult, by creating a permission structure for conservative-leaning voters who are nonetheless pro-choice and pro-weed to “have their cake and eat it too.”
Polls close at 7:30 pm Eastern time. Decision Desk HQ will have the results here as they become available.