The future of abortion access in Ohio will be decided on Tuesday, when voters thumbs up or down a ballot proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
The abortion rights supporters have money, polls and the recent history of other red-state abortion proposals on their side; the opponents have various schemes of essentially legalized cheating on theirs.
Most recently, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) — who also happens to be challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2024 — purged nearly 27,000 voters between an August election featuring a proposal he supported and this upcoming abortion one he opposes.
“Unlike previous purges that this office has conducted, this one occurred without their previous practice of publicizing the purge,” Kayla Griffin, Ohio state director of All Voting Is Local, said in a statement to the Ohio Capital Journal. “Because of this lack of usual notification, groups like All Voting is Local and our partners could not inform voters they may have been purged and would need to register to vote again before the voter registration deadline that was just 12 days later.”
The voters who were quietly removed in the September purge would have had to re-register by October 10 to vote on Tuesday.
LaRose, responding to state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney’s (D) urging him to reverse the purge, dismissed the criticism.
“We removed registrations that have (1) moved or died, (2) haven’t voted at their registered address in FOUR YEARS and (3) haven’t responded to multiple rounds of warnings that they’re eligible for removal. They meet ALL three of those criteria,” he tweeted. “It’s fitting that liberals are trying to help dead people vote on Halloween.”
The Ohio voting roll purge, coincidentally, mirrors one in Virginia at the hands of Republican officials as they seek to flip the state Senate and net a trifecta on Tuesday.
LaRose’s protestations of innocence might bear more weight if he and his fellow state Republicans hadn’t already left a track record of trying to thwart the abortion proposal by nefarious means.
In August, the Republican-dominated ballot board vetoed the proposed summary of the initiative to appear on the ballot in favor of one that was longer, omitted some key details and was permeated with anti-abortion language including “unborn child.” Backers of the abortion initiative went to the conservative state Supreme Court, but only got a partial victory as the majority allowed the anti-abortion rhetoric to remain.
Earlier that month, state Republicans forced a special election to raise the threshold for citizen-initiated ballot proposals to 60 percent from its simple majority and to significantly beef up the signature gathering requirements. Initiatives originating in the Republican-dominated legislature would have remained at the lower threshold.
The scheduling struck Ohioans as particularly rich, given that the legislature had passed a bill months earlier to remove typically low-turnout August elections from the state’s calendar.
“These unnecessary off-cycle elections aren’t good for taxpayers, election officials or the civic health of our state,” LaRose said in late 2022. “It’s time for them to go.”
Before the August election, there was another language-related kerfuffle, in which the state Supreme Court ordered a partial rewrite of the ballot text. Voters ultimately defeated the initiative by about 57 percent.
There have also been the more usual evils of trying to tap into the transphobic moral panic currently raging in the Republican Party, and false advertisements that the amendment would allow abortions at any point in a pregnancy.
On Tuesday, the months of machinations and efforts to put a thumb on the scale will come to a head. If the initiative passes, Ohio will remain fairly abortion friendly amidst a sea of states where the procedure is virtually illegal. If it fails, a six-week ban will very likely spring back into action, aided by the right-wing high court — and cheered by the state Republicans who did everything in their power to make it happen.