To stop abortion ballot issues, Missouri and Ohio want to make it harder to amend the constitution
Missouri and Ohio Republicans have said that raising the constitutional threshold from a simple majority is aimed at scuttling initiatives expanding abortion rights.
As Missouri Republicans mull over whether to put a measure on next year’s ballot making it harder to amend the state constitution, at least one other state with similar political characteristics will soon vote on the idea.
Voters in Ohio will decide Aug. 8 whether to raise the threshold to amend the constitution to 60%. Like Missouri, Ohio is a former presidential swing state that’s become much more Republican in recent years. And backers of the idea say there needs to be a higher standard to enact consequential policy items than a simple majority.
There’s another thing the two states have in common: Proponents of raising the constitutional threshold have made no secret that it’s aimed at scuttling ballot items either expanding or enshrining abortion rights.
Elected officials and political scientists in both states say the result of the Ohio vote could influence whether Republicans in places like Missouri try to put a similar question before voters next year.
“Hopefully they’ll see it go down in flames in Ohio, and the renewed effort will be pretty weak here,” said state Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Platte County.
If Missouri Republican legislators place a measure raising the constitutional threshold on the ballot next year, voters will likely decide on it in August. And any effort to legalize abortion through the constitution could be up for a statewide voter in November of that same year.
University of Dayton political science professor Christopher Devine said the timing of what’s known as Issue 1, which would raise the constitutional amendment threshold from a simple majority to 60%, is not coincidental.
“These same folks made it illegal last year to hold August elections, except for cases of financial emergencies,” said Devine, referring to Republicans who control the Ohio Legislature. “And now they brought the August election back, costing $15 million. I think pretty clearly because the abortion measure is getting on the ballot in November, they're trying to raise the threshold before the vote happens.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Missouri Republicans like House Speaker Dean Plocher have explicitly linked passage of a ballot item making it harder to amend the constitution with thwarting a subsequent measure legalizing abortion.
“I think we all believe that an initiative petition will be brought forth to allow choice. I believe it will pass,” Plocher said in May. “I think abortion will be allowed because they'll put ballot candy in. And if you don't pass IP reform, it'll be 50% plus one.”
And while Republicans in Ohio and Missouri have argued that special interests often manipulate voters with expensive public relationship campaigns to pass amendments, Devine said abortion rights looms large over the Ohio vote.
“We’ve had these controversies for 15 years about, as proponents of Issue 1 are saying: ‘Out-of-state interests buying their way into the constitution.’ That’s the main argument they’re using — it’s not about abortion to say ‘this is why Issue 1 should be passed,’” Devine said. “Well, that’s been going on for 15 years. We’ve had the set of standards in place since Ohio first got the opportunity to vote on the constitution 100 years ago.”
Could Ohio prompt Missouri to think twice?
Even though turnout on Issue 1 is expected to be low, Devine said that proponents of the measure are in a quandary: Trying to galvanize supporters to vote for raising the constitutional threshold could also entice proponents of abortions rights to flock to the polls to kill the measure.
“If they can get out the message that this is basically about abortion, and more than that, as they're portraying it, that this is an attempt to game the system to pull it over on Ohio voters, there's some possibility there to motivate people to get out and vote,” Devine said.
If Ohio voters defeat the Issue, it would mark yet another instance of a heavily Republican state rejecting a bid to make the constitution more difficult to amend. Voters in Arkansas soundly defeated a similar measure in 2022.
But state Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire, said he does not think the results of the Ohio vote will stop Republicans from trying again next year to make it more difficult to amend Missouri’s constitution.
“I think they’re going to keep going for it,” Burton said.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.