Let’s Talk About Last Night In Ohio
If you’re not up on last night in Ohio, what happened was this: Ohioans voted to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution (Issue 1), by a margin that qualifies as “not even close,” and also voted to allow the use of marijuana in the state (Issue 2), by a slightly larger margin. This despite overwhelming and absolutely dishonest messaging by the GOP and its allies on both issues, but most notably on Issue 1.
Wanna talk about it? Let’s!
1. The first thing I notice is that the margins to pass Issues 1 and 2 very closely match the margin with which Ohio voters turned down (a very different than November’s) Issue 1 back in August. That Issue 1 — and yes, Ohio’s numbering system for voter issues needs a little more clarity and variety — was the GOP-dominated Ohio legislature’s attempt to make voter initiatives almost impossible to put on the statewide ballot and then almost impossible to pass. The lege then scheduled that Issue 1 for an August vote date despite the fact that they had very recently passed a law to stop having August elections because no one voted in those. They were counting on the issue to slip past most voters so only their favorite selected voters would show up. This backfired on them in a real and significant way, as roughly four times as many voters showed up for that election as did for the previous August election, and (that) Issue 1 went down in flames.
It was widely understood that August’s Issue 1 was a “Hail Mary” attempt to keep November’s Issue 1 off the ballot, since abortion rights are broadly popular in Ohio, and the wholly gerrymandered Ohio legislature knew it was out of step with the general population on the matter. That said, when I wrote an August election post-mortem, I said I imagined the vote on abortion rights would be decided on a closer margin than the one that prevailed in crushing initiative restrictions. Well, it was — by half a percentage point. Otherwise, it looks like the people who showed up to slap around the Ohio lege in August came back to do it again in November. Excellent choice, Ohio voters.
2. I strongly suspect that having both abortion rights and marijuana legalization on the ballot at the same time had a synergistic effect on the success of both issues. It seems to me that very broadly, the sort of person who doesn’t want a politician in their uterus, or the uteruses of their friends and loved ones, is the sort of person who doesn’t want people to risk going to jail for toking up, and vice versa. For those folks, being able to take care of both things at the same time would be a reason to make the effort to vote, while the people who were highly partisan about one but meh on the other could still vote for both because, hey, they were there voting anyway.
Of course, the flipside was probably true as well: The correlation between wanting to control other people’s uteruses and control their ability to toke whenever they wanted is, I imagine, pretty high. And lord knows the GOP whipped its voters into a frenzy about both. But the fact of the matter is there are fewer Ohioans on that side of both issues.
3. It’s also worth noting that on the abortion rights issue, 3.86 million Ohioans voted, which is around 48% of the total electorate. That’s a pretty good turnout in an off-off election year, which had neither senators nor representatives were on the ballot (as in 2022) or a president (as in 2020). Ohio voters were clearly energized by the idea of clawing back the rights they had had a few years previously, as well they should have been.
4. As with the August election, the GOP and conservatives ran a stunningly dishonest campaign on Issue 1. They said voting “no” would protect children (it wouldn’t, unless forcing a child to carry their rapist’s baby to term is your definition of “protecting”), that voting “yes” would curtail parental rights (which weren’t being threatened), and would allow women to abort viable fetuses up until the very moment of birth (the amendment made provisions for viability issues and medical determination thereof). The “No on 1” folks even threw in some anti-trans bullshit into their messaging because trans people are their current boogeyfolk.
When none of that was working especially well, there was the breaktakingly disingenuous assertion that Issue 1 was unnecessary because abortion is currently legal in Ohio. It is: It’s legal because the law the Ohio lege passed (and the Governor signed) to restrict abortions to six weeks was placed on hold pending court cases, and it was widely expected that the entirely gormless GOP-dominated Supreme Court of Ohio would rule that the ban after six weeks is legal.
(This on top of Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the Ohio Ballot Board’s decision to have the explanatory text of Issue 1 suggest people would be, among other bad things, voting for murdering babies; this got taken to Ohio’s gormless Supreme Court, which issued an opinion that some of what LaRose did was out of bounds, but not the part suggesting one is murdering babies, so, yeah, that was great.)
The fact the GOP expected these absolutely transparent lines of crap to hold water with people not already in the tank for them shows how out of practice they are trying to craft a message to people who aren’t them. In the end, the GOP had to resort to voter flyers saying “If you don’t know what’s in the Issue, just vote no,” which elides that the other option was not to vote on it at all, which, one presumes, was what many who did not care to know about the issue did.
5. On the subject of the gerrymandered, GOP-dominated state government, don’t expect it to accept either the passage of abortion rights or marijuana legalization with a world-weary shrug and the decision to move on to other topics. On the marijuana front, what passed is not a constitutional amendment, so they can (and just may) move to invalidate it or restrict it substantially, because fuck you, that’s why. They have rather less leeway on the matter of abortion rights — the actual text of the amendment was constructed with the understanding that the Ohio GOP would do everything in its power to make its protections as constrained as possible — but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try.
As noted before, the Ohio legislature is gerrymandered as fuck, and a previous attempt to de-gerrymander the state (via voter initiative, although not as a constitutional amendment), was roundly and illegally ignored by the state government, which rather than obeying a court order to change its unconstitutional districts decided to run out the clock until such time as it could get an Ohio Supreme Court more congenial to their bullshit. Bluntly, the Ohio legislature picks its voters, not the other way around, and doesn’t actually care what Ohio voters in general think about anything.
In 2024 there is very likely to be another voter initiative to remove the Ohio government from the district drawing process entirely, and if it’s on the ballot, it’ll very likely pass. Until and unless, the Ohio government is going to keep trying to make a mess of things. This is not going to make Ohioans happy. In the short run, there’s not too much to be done. In the long run, there are things to be done, and I suspect it’s going to bite the Ohio GOP on the ass. Which it should.
6. Ohio’s abortion and marijuana victories are part of a larger 2023 election night which saw some substantial Democratic gains and Republican embarrassments, including but not limited to Andy Beshear handily winning a second term as governor in Kentucky, the Democrats holding the Virginia senate and taking the Virginia house, stalemating Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin and putting paid to his nascent presidential hopes, and on a smaller but no less vital level, punting a bunch of censoring reactionaries from various school boards across the land.
In a week where the press and some Democrats were wringing their hands about the fact that Trump is leading Biden in some entirely meaningless polls a year out from the 2024 presidential election, the actual reality of how people are voting offers, shall we say, some interesting and possibly corrective perspectivse. One, restoring peoples’ ability to control their own bodies is a winner, and we’ve seen that over and over and over again in the time since the Dobbs decision. Two, you won’t go wrong letting people have their weed. Three, people in general are not nearly as intolerant as their gerrymandered representatives, or professional propogandists, or the people hoping to monetize their shittiness on the former Twitter.
None of this is actually difficult to understand, and I do wonder why some people, particularly nominally on the left, seem to have a problem understanding it. Hopefully they will start understanding it better soon. Today’s presidential polls don’t mean much but November 2024 will be here sooner than people think.