Aug 9, 2023

Ohio's special election results.

The election is seen as a vote on abortion rights.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

We're breaking down the special election in Ohio, which was focused on a ballot measure that could impact abortion rights and amending the constitution. Plus, a reader question about legacy admissions.

Quick hits.

  1. The Supreme Court temporarily reinstated federal firearms regulations on ghost guns while legal challenges move forward. (The vote)
  2. Nearly 100 people were arrested in the United States and Australia as part of a dark web child abuse investigation. (The arrests)
  3. President Joe Biden designated nearly one million acres of land as a national monument outside the Grand Canyon National Park. (The monument)
  4. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis replaced his campaign manager Generra Peck with James Uthmeier, the latest in his major staff shake-ups in recent weeks. (The replacement)
  5. The United States and Saudi Arabia have agreed on the broad contours of a deal for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel in exchange for concessions to Palestinians. (The deal
  6. BREAKING: Sen. Dianne Feinstein was released from the hospital after falling in her home. (The fall

Promo podcast:

Every so often I get invited on a show to talk about the work we are doing with Tangle and leave feeling like I really got a chance to explain our mission. A few weeks ago I had one of those opportunities when I appeared on The Nick Halaris Show to talk about how Tangle started, why we are doing what we’re doing, and some of what I’ve learned along the way. You can listen here:

‎The Nick Halaris Show: Episode 16: Isaac Saul on Apple Podcasts
‎Show The Nick Halaris Show, Ep Episode 16: Isaac Saul - Aug 8, 2023

Today's topic.

The Ohio special election on Issue 1. On Tuesday, Ohio voters rejected a ballot measure, dubbed Issue 1, that would have made it harder to amend the state constitution. Official results show the measure has been defeated by a 57% to 43% vote.

The proposition on the ballot was whether to raise the threshold required to amend the Ohio Constitution from a simple majority to 60% of voters. If approved, it would have made it significantly more difficult to change the state constitution. Other provisions that were also rejected in the election would have required signatures from all 88 counties in Ohio to put an amendment on the ballot (up from 44), while another would have eliminated the ability to correct errors in signatures on ballots that had been rejected by the state.

The efforts to make it more difficult to propose and pass a constitutional amendment were pushed by Ohio's GOP-led General Assembly, which approved a resolution to put the ballot initiative up for a vote. Republicans initially pitched the change as a way to keep wealthy special interests from using the amendment process for their own gain. According to The New York Times, only about a third of constitutional amendments proposed by voters in the past 111 years have exceeded a 60% threshold.

However, the effort came at the same time many opponents of abortion restrictions were laying the groundwork to amend the state constitution in November, hoping to define access to abortion as a right. That amendment would limit the ways the state can prohibit abortion up until the point of viability, and largely leave the decision up to the judgment of physicians. As a result, the Republican effort was widely viewed as a plan to stymie that forthcoming amendment, a reality some Republican lawmakers eventually conceded

Ohio is the only state with abortion access on the ballot this year, and the move by Republicans to raise the threshold was one of several efforts to restrict the way access to abortion could be enshrined into state constitutions. It also came with much controversy, as just last December, Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature had outlawed most August elections, saying too few people voted in them and they had become liable for outsized influence by out-of-state interests. Then, Republicans reversed course in May after abortion rights groups gained enough signatures to put an abortion rights amendment on the ballot in November.

In a testament to the enthusiasm around the ballot measure, some 578,000 Ohio voters cast ballots by mail or in-person in the early voting period before Tuesday's election, compared to just 288,700 who did so in the 2022 primaries. Over 3 million votes were cast in all, nearly double the 1.66 million ballots that were counted in the 2022 midterm primaries when the nominations for gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House seats were being voted on.

Ohio's state legislature has already passed one of the strictest bans on abortion in the country, prohibiting abortions after six weeks in most cases. However, that ban was blocked by a Hamilton County judge and is currently in limbo.

Today, we're going to break down some reactions from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left criticized the effort, saying it was an anti-democratic power grab.
  • Some call out the hypocrisy of lawmakers who tried to force this vote in an August election after previously banning such elections.
  • Others say Ohio is now an abortion bellwether, and this result raises the stakes of the November election.

Before the vote, The Akron Beacon Journal editorial board said Ohioans have never seen anything like Issue 1.

"Ohio lawmakers largely banned August elections last year, correctly arguing important community decisions should not be made in elections where few people participate. But Republicans seeking to defeat an abortion rights amendment in November's election abandoned those principles by placing Issue 1 before voters in August, wasting as much as $20 million and further stressing overworked local boards of elections," the board said. There is "some truth" to the concern of special interest influence, but Ohio voters "are smarter than politicians give us credit for," and have rejected plenty of poorly proposed amendments in the past.

"In fact, 73% of citizen amendments have failed. There are no examples of frivolous issues passing," the board added. "And with the 60 percent standard, if a flawed proposal would somehow be approved, it would be even more difficult to fix it with another vote... Trust in government would visibly erode if 59% of voters supported an issue and lost. It's undemocratic and discourages citizen participation. That's not in anyone's best interests." Not only that, but Issue 1 is "bad policy for everyone, not just those who support abortion rights." Conservatives should be wary of a time when they are in the minority again.

In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. said the "majority backed majority rule" in Ohio's “scam” referendum.

"When you do everything you can to rig an election and still lose, you have a problem. Voters in Ohio told the state’s Republican Party on Tuesday that it has a big problem, and they sent that message to the GOP nationwide," he wrote. "The combination of hypocrisy and opportunism proved too much for most Ohioans, who defeated the GOP legislature’s referendum proposal that would have made it far more difficult for future electorates to change the state’s Constitution. Even though the state voted for Donald Trump by eight points in 2020, a majority refused to accept the Republicans’ invitation to throw away its own power."

"Despite the GOP’s claims to the contrary, the measure was clearly designed to head off a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights on November’s ballot. Polls show that abortion rights command majority support in Ohio, as they did in other red states such as Kansas and Kentucky. Reaching 60 percent, however, would have been difficult," Dionne said. "But if Issue 1’s defeat was a statement about abortion rights, it was also a harsh judgment against the anti-majoritarian politics that Republicans are practicing in many states they control. Their methods include highly partisan gerrymanders, efforts to make it harder for some groups to cast ballots (particularly Black and younger voters), and state takeovers of election administration in Democratic cities."

In The Cincinnati Enquirer, Dan Sewell said Ohio may now be a bellwether on abortion.

"The Nov. 7 election will directly test voter sentiment about abortion and also be the focus of national attention with Ohio being the only state with abortion on the ballot," Sewell said. "Although Ohio has been getting redder, polls indicate that a majority of its voters support women’s access to abortion... This November’s issue would allow abortions at around 24 weeks of pregnancy if passed. It would change Ohio’s constitution to guarantee abortion access." For now, we can look to lessons from this ballot measure. "One we can hope Ohio Republicans take from it is that it’s about time to start leading the state with fairness and forthrightness.

"After the gerrymandering-dominated 2022 state elections, the GOP decided on a new trick: scheduling a stealth election to try to change the rules on the coming abortion vote," Sewell said. "Despite all the claims that Issue 1 was just meant to ‘protect our constitution,’ that disguise was finally dropped in recent weeks to acknowledge it was about stopping abortion. And the closer we got to Aug. 8, the list grew to include protecting gun ownership and parental rights and fighting drag queens and secret gender-changing surgery for children... Through all the smoke and mirrors, voters responded with remarkably high turnout, at the levels of some general elections."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right supported the ballot measure and are worried about November's election now that it’s been rejected.
  • Some argued that there is still a path to victory for pro-lifers in November.
  • Others suggested the November amendment is about more than just repealing the heartbeat law, saying it is a radical bill touching abortion, parental rights and gender issues.

Before the election, Grayson Quay said in The Daily Caller that this was one of the biggest weeks for the pro-life movement since Dobbs.

"Since the 2022 Dobbs decision and the wave of abortion bans that followed it, the pro-life movement has suffered defeat after defeat, but two events taking place this week could signal the turn of the tide," Quay said. "The reason Issue 1’s success is crucial for the pro-life movement is that, in November, Ohio voters will consider another amendment that would establish a right to 'make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions.' The text claims to allow abortion restrictions post-viability, but it contains a vague maternal 'health' exemption that would allow abortion up to birth for something as banal as anxiety," he said.

"Critics have also pointed out that freedom to make 'reproductive decisions' would apply not only to abortion, but also to child sex changes. Under the proposed amendment, any attempt to restrict potentially sterilizing cross-sex hormones for minors would be unconstitutional," Quay added. "The abortion amendment is polling very well, with close to 60 percent in favor. If Issue 1 fails, there will be no way to stop it. A state whose duly elected representatives enacted a six-week abortion ban will be forced to accept the same anti-life extremism that governs California and New York."

In National Review, Michael J. New said Ohio Pro-Lifers "still have a path to win in November."

"Tuesday’s defeat is certainly a disappointment and a setback for pro-lifers. However, despite the loss, there is still a pathway to victory for Buckeye State pro-lifers in November," New said. "Many pundits have pointed out that the proposed constitutional amendment to place abortion rights in Ohio’s state constitution enjoys a substantial lead. Recent polls indicate that between 54 percent and 57 percent of Buckeye State voters support this amendment. However, a substantial body of data shows that ballot propositions lose support as the Election Day draws near. Michigan’s experience in 2022 is instructive," as a ballot proposal to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution became less popular the closer they got to election day — ultimately losing 16-19 points of support.

"This November’s election is very important to pro-lifers both in Ohio and across the country," New wrote. "If supporters of legalized abortion can place abortion rights in Ohio’s state constitution, they will doubtless try to do the same in other conservative states. This could easily jeopardize strong pro-life laws that are protecting preborn children in Florida, Missouri, Arizona, and other states. A pro-life victory in November would require considerable effort from pro-lifers around the country as well as in Ohio. That said, a pro-life victory is still certainly within reach."

In Townhall, Rebecca Downs said this election will clear the way for a radical pro-abortion initiative.

"Special interest groups from out-of-state will have a considerably easier time passing a pro-abortion ballot initiative this November," Downs said. "The consequences are very real and could be fast approaching if the initiative, known as the Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative, passes in just a few months time. As Townhall has covered, the initiative's passage could have massive implications for parental rights." This amendment is not merely about repealing Ohio's 'heartbeat law,' but it is a radical vehicle to prohibit any restrictions on abortion and other procedures, including sex change surgeries, that would cancel out parental-consent laws and parental notification of abortions or sex change surgeries.

"It's no surprise, then, that groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have their fingerprints all over this, especially since they've been vocally opposed to parental rights on such issues as abortion and so-called gender affirming care, which in reality involves sterilization and genital mutilation," Downs said. Of the groups in favor of the amendment, "Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America was among the quickest [to release] a statement about its failure. The statement was especially harsh on those who 'sat on the sideline,' including 'the silence of the establishment and business community' and even Republicans for their failure to act."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • The central argument Ohio Republicans started with — that the threshold for changing the constitution should be higher — is something I'm open to.
  • However, the hypocrisy of this election and the obvious motivation behind it make these lawmakers look very bad.
  • Ultimately, Ohioans were wise to it and voted accordingly, setting up a huge abortion-related vote in November.

There are two separate ideas here that I think are worth addressing.

The first idea is the question of amending a state constitution as a curb to undue outside influence. In a vacuum, if that is what was really at stake here, I think there is a lot to like about what the Ohio GOP proposed. It is true that state constitutions are vulnerable to outside special interests. It is true that, as Republicans initially acknowledged, special elections tend to have low turnout and are vulnerable to more influence from outside the state. It is true, too, that a simple majority could be reasonably conceived as a low bar to change something as foundational as a state constitution. Again, in a vacuum, you could make the argument that a 60% threshold is better than a 50% threshold for something as serious as amending the constitution (the bar is much higher in Congress).

But the second idea is about the reality of this special election, outside of a vacuum. And that is where things start looking a lot worse for the Ohio GOP. First is the blatant hypocrisy: They made a case to voters that August elections were bad, specifically because of the influence outside interests can exert on them due to low turnout, and then immediately pivoted to pushing an August election to stop something they feared a majority of their constituents would support. Not only that, but they were dishonest about why. The initial pitch that this was all about preventing special interest influence slowly morphed into a concession — then open promotion, really — of the fact that this was about stopping the potential November abortion rights amendment.

The GOP had it right the first time. These August elections are a bad way to make major decisions on something like the state constitution, and they are vulnerable to outside influence. Roughly $32.5 million was spent on this election, evenly split on both sides, with eight in ten dollars coming from outside the state. The fact Republicans flip-flopped on their initial position when they thought it might benefit them did not go over well with voters, who turned out in droves to soundly reject the idea of raising the constitutional amendment threshold to 60%. It was, simply put, a decisive and rather embarrassing loss.

But that doesn't mean the November abortion rights amendment is a shoe-in.

As some conservative writers above noted, the amendment being pushed in November is an expansive piece of abortion rights legislation. It's not as clear-cut as Rebecca Downs claims (under "What the right is saying"), but because the text of the amendment prohibits state law directly or indirectly placing a burden on reproductive decisions, it’s certainly possible — if the amendment passes — that state courts could invalidate laws requiring parental notification and consent on all kinds of sexual and reproductive health care. 

In other ways, the law contains more conventional abortion rights language. It leaves decisions up to doctors and patients before fetal viability and allows restrictions after fetal viability so long as the mother's life or health isn't threatened. Despite polling that suggests Ohio voters would support this kind of legislation, I'm entirely unsure how it will actually break. Abortion rights and gun reform amendments are notorious for being less popular than polling suggests once the actual votes are tallied. Some "pro-choice" voters may want more than just the viability standard to limit abortions, and some may be moved off their position if conservatives successfully argue that the amendment could end up boxing parents of minors out of these decisions.

For now, though, the results from last night in Ohio are the latest in a long string of defeats for the pro-life, anti-abortion, and conservative side of this battle. After the primaries in November of 2022, I made the case that the results were primarily about abortion, and I still believe that to be the case. Since then, Democrats have continued to use the fall of Roe v. Wade to their electoral advantage, and I've yet to see anything resembling a cohesive conservative plan to counterpunch on the issue. Come November in Ohio, we'll have our next temperature check. 

Your questions, answered.

Q: Until the current affirmative action ruling, affirmative action had been in place for over 60 years. From 1980-2022, at Harvard, the percentage of minority students ranged between 8-15%. For over 40 years the percentage of minority students at Harvard was close to the actual percentage of persons of color in the total population. At this point there are legacy students of color that should mirror the percentage of minority students that could attend Harvard. Does taking legacy enrollment out of the loop really do more than satisfy a sense of unfairness from the past?

— Peggy from Delaware

Tangle: You know it's either a great point, or a really bizarre issue, when people who completely disagree on the previous issue find themselves aligned. Maybe I'm reading into this question, but it sounds like you're in favor of affirmative action. And your argument reminded me of this one, which our team found when researching the piece on legacy admissions last week, from someone decidedly not pro-affirmative action:"Ironically, getting rid of preferences for legacies will hurt black applicants the most. Recall that colleges have been giving gigantic racial preferences to black applicants since the 1960s, which means we have more than half a century of black graduates whose children and grandchildren are ... guess what? Legacies!”

Ann Coulter wrote that, in a piece in Townhall.

I'm not going to fully rehash my take on legacy admissions here, but I was left somewhat unconvinced that repealing legacies would really solve much by way of 'leveling the playing field' in admissions. I think Coulter was exaggerating when she said repealing the practice would 'hurt black applicants the most,' but I do think she has a valid point about more legacies than we might think being black. That's partially why I wanted to answer this question — some good points get edited out for length, and this was one that was sadly left on the cutting room floor.

Still, I do think there's more to it than a sense of vindictive fairness. At the end of the day, if affirmative action isn't part of the admissions process, I think it's the logical position to hold that legacies shouldn't be, either. But it might not make admissions more fair. 

Ending legacy admissions might be 'logical,' and it might feel like it satisfies 'a sense of unfairness,' as you said — but I did start to think that we should know if any policy change is going to be helpful when we make it. The blogger Scott Alexander wrote a fascinating piece about how the ultra-wealthy being able to buy admission into elite schools might actually be a good thing. His piece was pretty challenging and I definitely recommend it.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

President Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Wednesday that will ban private equity and venture capital investments in some Chinese technology companies. The move is the latest in a series of government actions trying to prevent Beijing from developing cutting-edge technology for its military. It will cover direct investments in the semiconductor, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence sectors, and would prohibit investments in some forms of those technologies while also requiring Americans doing business in China to inform the U.S. government about their work and investments. The order comes after growing bipartisan fears that American technology will help China develop weapons it could use against the military in combat. The Wall Street Journal has the story (paywall)


  • 58%. The percent of Ohio voters who said they supported granting a constitutional right to abortion access, according to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll from July.
  • 57.01%. Of the ballots counted, the percent of Ohio voters who voted against the measure to raise the threshold to amend the constitution to 60% of the vote.
  • 1912. The year in which the threshold for changing a constitutional amendment in Ohio was set at 50%.
  • 3 million. The approximate number of votes that were cast on this ballot measure.
  • 5.9 million. The approximate number of people who voted in the 2020 presidential race in Ohio.
  • 6 of 6. The number of states out of those with abortion on the ballot where the "pro-abortion rights" position won in the 2022 midterm elections.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about the monkeypox outbreak.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the U.S. Navy presence in the Red Sea.
  • No Extra Credit: 680 Tangle readers answered our poll asking if Fitch was right to downgrade the U.S. government's credit rating, with 88% in favor. 49% said Fitch was 'definitely' right, 39% said 'probably,' 7% said 'probably not,' and 3% said 'definitely not.' "My personal credit score would be a negative number if my debt to income ratio looked like our government's," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: What happens if you don't put your phone in airplane mode?
  • Take the poll. In a vacuum, do you think 50% is the right threshold for amending a state's constitution? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

For families with autistic children, travel can be difficult, with 87% opting not to travel at all. Marc Garcia, the president and CEO of the tourism bureau for Mesa, Arizona, and father of a child severely impacted by autism, decided to "do something about it." Through research, he discovered IBCCES (the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards), an organization that was already training employees at big tourist attractions such as the Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park at the Mall of America in Minnesota to supportively engage with visitors who have cognitive disorders. Garcia is now on its board of directors, and in the fall of 2019, Mesa, Arizona’s third-largest city, became accredited as the first Autism Certified City in the world. Reasons to Be Cheerful has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.