Why today’s vote in Ohio is an important national story

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On the surface, today’s vote in Ohio might not seem especially notable. The state’s voters are being asked to weigh in on an apparent procedural matter, which isn’t generally the sort of thing that inspires great passions from the electorate.

But in this instance, looks can be deceiving — because today’s vote in the Buckeye State is one of the year’s most important. As my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones explained:

The special election isn’t technically about abortion. On its face, the measure before voters — known as Issue 1 — concerns whether the threshold for ballot initiatives to amend the state constitution should be raised to 60%. But Ohio Republicans set up the election only after activists obtained the necessary signatures to place an abortion rights amendment on the ballot in November. Under current law, the amendment would be adopted with a simple majority of the vote.

The fact that today’s vote is happening at all is a highly relevant detail in the larger controversy. In fact, it was late last year when Ohio Republicans agreed to abolish August elections, since most voters tended not to participate in them. Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, Frank LaRose, publicly characterized August elections as inherently improper.

Soon after, reproductive rights advocates launched an effort to hold a statewide vote to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. If a majority of Ohioans endorse the measure, protections that Republicans eliminated after Roe v. Wade was overturned would be restored, and a radical six-week ban state GOP officials created would be undone.

At that point, wouldn’t you know it, Republicans decided voting in August wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Today’s vote won’t determine whether abortion is legal in the state; that’ll still be decided in the fall. Rather, as Ja’han noted, the vote on Issue 1 is about whether Republicans and their allies can change elections standards and undo majority rule before Ohioans vote in November.

Indeed, at the heart of the effort is a straightforward goal: If Issue 1 is approved, the abortion rights measure would need at least 60% of the vote, rather than 50%. Removing all doubts about the motivations, LaRose — who’s now also a Republican U.S. Senate candidate — conceded in May that Issue 1 is “100% about“ abortion.

That might help explain the right’s goals, but it’s important to acknowledge the fact that this is also about democracy. GOP officials in Ohio are afraid that a majority of their state’s voters will make a decision they disapprove of, so they’re scrambling to fix the game in their favor. This is increasingly a core element of how Republicans approach policy fights like these — we saw a similar situation play out in South Dakota last summer — and it reinforces concerns that too much of the party sees democracy as an inconvenience to be circumvented, manipulated, or beaten to suit the GOP’s purposes.

In theory, Republicans could try to make their case to voters and hope the electorate agrees with them. In practice, the party apparently doesn’t expect that to work. As The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie explained in a recent column, “Rather than try to persuade voters or compromise on legislation, much of the Republican Party has made a conscious decision to insulate itself as much as possible from voters and popular discontent.”

Will it work in Ohio? Polls close at 7:30 p.m. eastern. Watch this space.

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”

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