Note: This story was updated on Aug. 3 to include early voting numbers through Aug. 3, as well as updated information regarding the county’s need for poll workers.
ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio — Early voting is underway in Athens County and across the state in Ohio’s Aug. 8 special election, in which voters will decide whether to make it more difficult to amend the state’s constitution.
Early in-person absentee voting began for Issue 1 in Ohio on July 11. Athens County Board of Elections Deputy Director Tony Brooks said by the end of the day Wednesday, Aug. 2, 3,667 votes had been cast locally, including in-person absentee ballots and mail-in ballots. An additional 117 votes were cast in office on Thursday, Aug. 3 as of 1 p.m.
According to the Board of Elections absentee ballot reporting system, of those who requested absentee ballots so far, about 59% are registered as Democrats while just 14% are registered as Republicans.
Brooks said this far exceeds Athens County early voting in previous August special elections, with early voting so far roughly equivalent to the total votes cast in the previous two August special elections. That mirrors higher than expected early voting throughout the state.
Brooks said he projects total voter turnout of 10-15%.
“No matter how they’re voting, people are getting out and making their voice heard,” said Adriane Mohlenkamp with the League of Women Voters of Athens County.
August elections typically see far lower voter turnout than elections held at other times — one reason why, only five months before passing SJR2, the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine, that eliminated most August special elections.
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Opponents of Issue 1 challenged the validity of this year’s Aug. 8 election as a result of the law. The Ohio Supreme Court decided on June 16 that the election could move forward.
What is Issue 1?
If passed, Issue 1 would:
- Increase the vote threshold required to amend the Ohio constitution through a ballot initiative from a simple majority of 50% plus one to 60%.
- Require ballot petitions for constitutional amendments to receive signatures from 5% of electors in every Ohio county (currently, petitions must receive signatures from only 44 of the state’s 88 counties).
- Prevent groups proposing constitutional changes from gathering additional signatures after submitting petitions to the Ohio Secretary of State.
Officially, Ohio Republican lawmakers say that putting the issue to a vote will ensure that the constitutional amendment process is used only to enshrine widely supported constitutional measures.
However, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, told supporters the measure is “100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.”
A petition to place the Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative was submitted to Secretary of State Frank LaRose earlier this month with nearly twice the signatures the state currently requires.
The amendment would add language to the Ohio Constitution enshrining the individual “right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”
The proposed amendment would allow the state to prohibit abortion after “fetal viability,” the point at which the patient’s treating physician believes that the fetus “has a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures.” Typically, this occurs around the 24th week.
Ways to vote
Mohlenkamp said she is concerned that many local residents do not yet know about the election, and that many may not vote simply because they are not used to voting in August.
“Especially if we’re voting in the regular general election in November, everybody’s talking about it — it’s easy to remember that it’s election day,” Mohlenkamp said. “Aug. 8, it’s hard to remember that it’s election day.”
Whether voters choose to vote on election day, request an absentee ballot or vote early, Mohlenkamp encouraged voters to “really make a voting plan.”
Absentee ballot applications are due Aug. 1, when the local board of elections will remain open until 8:30 p.m. Absentee ballots will then be mailed to voters. Aug. 7 is the last day to postmark an absentee ballot and have it counted.
For voters who choose to vote on Aug. 8, the polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Voters may check their polling location via the Ohio Secretary of State’s voter look-up website.
Getting out the vote
Shortly after the election was announced, a large state-wide coalition assembled to campaign against Issue 1. The well-funded One Person One Vote coalition has advertised extensively and mobilized events and get out the vote efforts throughout the state, including in Athens County.
Local groups have also campaigned against Issue 1 in Athens County. On the first day of early voting, the local American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Athens County held a rally at the courthouse to promote early voting.
Mohlenkamp said the League, a nonpartisan organization which opposes Issue 1, is particularly concerned about getting out the vote in the Aug. 8 election “because it affects our power (as voters) going forward.”
Opponents to the issue also include a bipartisan group of former Ohio governors, numerous labor organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The issue’s supporters include DeWine, the Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio Right to Life. The extent to which supporters have organized in Athens County is unclear.
Jay Edwards, the Republican state representative for Ohio House District 94 who is from Nelsonville and chairs the Athens County Republican Party, was one of only a few Republican legislators who voted against Ohio Senate Joint Resolution 2, which put Issue 1 on the ballot in the August special election.
Asked about his stance on Issue 1 and the Athens County Republican Party’s role organizing around the issue, Edwards provided the following statement to the Independent, on the condition that it be printed in its entirety:
The majority of the members of The Athens County Republican Party are supporting Issue 1, however, we have some that have some concerns on both sides. Yard signs have been available at our meetings for members to take and distribute. Also, we have had great discussion regarding this issue and many other issues at our meetings. One thing we are all in agreement on is that the November Abortion Ballot Proposal is dangerous and disgusting. The idea of taking away parental-consent laws (or even parental notification) for children receiving an abortion or sex change operation is egregious. This language will also allow an abortion for ANY REASON all the way up until the birth of the child.
The Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative would allow the state to restrict abortion after the patient’s physician believes the fetus is viable. The initiative does not address parental consent laws or gender-affirming healthcare.
The Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative would allow the state to restrict abortion after the patient’s physician believes the fetus is viable. Nonpartisan constitutional law expert Jonathan Entin said Edwards’s claim that the initiative would allow abortion for any reason is “just not a reasonable reading of the language.”
Additionally, the initiative does not address parental consent laws or gender-affirming healthcare.
Although the initiative considers reproductive healthcare broadly, Entin said, “Gender affirming care is not protected under a reasonable interpretation of this proposal for anybody,” whether minors or adults.
Entin added, “Trans rights are a hot button issues right now, and I think that the opponents have latched on to trans rights as a way to say, ‘see, this is going to promote trans rights.’ And I don’t think it is plausible to me that this proposal is addressing trans rights at all.”
Regarding the issue of parental consent for minors to have an abortion, Entin said that concern seems more reasonable — although he added that “it’s not clear to me in reading the language, that this is intended to supersede” parental consent laws.
Locally, some polling locations have moved for the Aug. 8 election.
Voters in Athens Ward 2, precincts 2, 3 and 4, who typically vote at the Dairy Barn Arts Center, will instead vote at the Ohio University Inn and Conference Center at 331 Richland Avenue due to a scheduling conflict at the Dairy Barn, Brooks said.
The Carthage Township & Rome Township precincts voting location has also been permanently moved from Federal Hocking Middle School to the Carthage Township Volunteer Fire Department to ensure the voting location meets requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Brooks said.
Meanwhile, the Alexander East, Alexander West, Albany Village and Lee Township precincts voting location has been permanently moved from Alexander High School to Christ Community Wesleyan Church at 6275 Kenney Memorial Lane in Albany.
Albany voter Neal Reynolds expressed concerns about the move in a letter to the editor, writing, “this move requires travel on the highway that many residents simply won’t be able to do. They certainly cannot walk there.”
Brooks said he does not share Reynolds’s concerns, adding that the location was moved due to concerns related to accessibility and traffic congestion.
As of Aug. 3, Brooks said Athens County had sufficient poll workers to conduct the election, but that more poll workers would be helpful in the Glouster, Trimble and Jacksonville area. Brooks encouraged residents interested in serving as poll workers in the area to call the Board of Elections office at (740) 592-3201.
This story has been updated to remove the Athens County Democratic Party from the sponsors of the early voting rally. The press release the Independent received was incorrect.
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