A minority of Ohio voters could wield majority power under an anti-democratic ballot measure that would make it nearly impossible to pass pro-worker referendums and other initiatives protecting Ohioans’ liberties and livelihoods.
With early voting underway in the Aug. 8 election, the IBEW, AFL-CIO, and a torrent of bipartisan opponents are racing to educate citizens about the grave threat Issue 1 poses to majority rule at the ballot box.
If passed, it would require approval by 60% of voters on referendums to amend the state constitution, making a steep battle that much more uphill for grassroots campaigns that aren’t bankrolled by billionaires and business groups.
For example, 40.01% of voters could defeat 59.99% on a future ballot measure to ban right-to-work laws, meaning a minority of Ohioans would be enough to weaken unions and the power of collective bargaining.
“Issue 1 is going to make it harder to pass laws that would help Ohio’s working families,” said Steubenville Local 246 President Kevan Brown, who spoke at one of the AFL-CIO’s campaign stops around the state. “It’s going to take away freedoms we’ve had since 1912.”
As one of the IBEW’s flyers put it bluntly: “Issue 1 is a political ploy by extreme special interests to permanently change Ohio’s constitution in their favor. When 60% of the vote is needed to win an amendment, only the wealthiest special interests will be able to afford a winning campaign.”
Even getting a citizen referendum on the ballot may be unsurmountable, with Issue 1 requiring twice as many signatures on petitions. The already high bar of 5% of eligible voters in 44 counties would expand to all of Ohio’s 88 counties. And petitioners would have no wiggle room: Issue 1 eliminates the 10-day grace period after filing to adjust for signatures that are declared invalid.
“Grassroots efforts wouldn’t stand a chance,” said Nate Corder, membership development representative at Newark, Ohio, Local 1105. “The working class would no longer have a voice.”
The GOP supermajorities in Ohio’s House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in May to put Issue 1 on the August ballot — five months after passing a law banning special elections in August on the grounds that the costs were too high and turnout was too low.
“The hypocrisy is staggering,” said Fourth District International Vice President Gina Cooper. “Virtually no one in Ohio who understands Issue 1 and the power grab behind it wants it to become law. And our members and thousands of volunteers around the state are working hard to make sure it doesn’t.”
Efforts includes peer-to-peer texting. Steve Crum, Fourth District international representative and political coordinator, said it’s proven to be an especially effective form of outreach. Unlike the deluge of one-way blast texts that campaigns send out, the IBEW program is set up for responses. With the touch of a finger, activists can contact a large group and carry on conversations with members who respond.
“During the Biden-Harris campaign in 2020, we’d get a daily report on phone banking — how many calls were made and how many people they talked to and it was around 7-9%. I believe we’re getting four or five times that with the peer-to-peer texts,” Crum said.
But union phone banks are by no means obsolete. Ohio IBEWers are placing calls and joining AFL-CIO canvasses to knock on doors. Meanwhile, locals are making the most of social media, while emailing and snail-mailing letters and flyers to members’ and retirees’ homes.
Labor is from alone. Organizations with vastly different agendas are bonding in opposition, understanding the stakes for democracy. Current and past leaders from both parties, including the Ohio Alliance of Mayors, former state attorneys general and four past governors have condemned Issue 1, along with an avalanche of editorials and critical media reports.
“To those in state government hungry for unconstrained sovereignty, the GOP ballot initiative is a cynical means to an autocratic end,” Marilou Johanek of the Ohio Capital Journal wrote July 11. “We’re almost there. Passage of Issue 1 would finish the job.”
A wildly deceptive campaign is attempting to scare Ohioans into voting in favor, fueled by out-of-state billionaires and major players such as Ohio’s Chamber of Commerce and Restaurant Association.
At moments, their true agenda slips past the smoke and mirrors. State Rep. Brian Stewart, who led the charge to speed Issue 1 to the ballot, told an interviewer in June that it was vital to head off “far-left proposals,” specifically citing an increase in the minimum wage.
His party has one the reddest trifectas in the country, holding the governor’s office and legislative supermajorities — 67-32 in the House 67-32 and 26-7 in the Senate.
“Anti-worker politicians already have outsize power in Ohio, and yet they fear our collective power,” said International President Kenneth W. Cooper, an Ohioan. “So they’re trying to crush it by any means necessary, democracy be damned. That’s why we need everyone to vote no and vote now.”
Grassroots energy against Issue 1 continues to build across the state but Corder warned that union voters can’t take anything for granted. “I live down in Athens and on my way to and from work, I see a lot of “Vote Yes” signs in the rural areas,” he said.
The IBEW activists are urging members to cast their ballots as soon as possible. Click here for hours and locations for early voting, which runs through Sunday, Aug. 6. Voters can find their regular polling places for election day, Aug. 8, through the secretary of state’s voter lookup tool.
“Union members understand the importance of majority rule,” Brown said. “Fifty percent plus one is the basis of our democracy, and we will fight to protect it.”