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In a special election in Ohio, voters consider changes to the state's constitution

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This day, this Tuesday in August, is Election Day in Ohio.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Republican-dominated state legislature arranged that vote for today, a time when, historically, fewer people pay attention to politics. If approved, the ballot measure would make it harder to change the state's constitution. So instead of a majority to change it, as in the past, Republicans want to require 60% to make a change. And that is a bid to lock in antiabortion laws before another ballot measure on abortion rights in November.

INSKEEP: Statehouse News Bureau's Karen Kasler joins us now from Columbus, Ohio, where she's covering this. Good morning.

KAREN KASLER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So we heard it goes from 50% - or 50 + 1 - to 60% to change the constitution. Is that all that's in this - on this measure?

KASLER: That is the part that's getting the most focus. But there is a kind of under-the-radar part that would make it even harder for grassroots groups to even get onto the ballot. It would increase the number of counties where groups would have to get valid signatures from 44, as in current law, to 88 counties. That would make Ohio the only state in the country that would require signatures from each and every county in Ohio. It would also mean failure to get signatures in a particular county would block the group from actually making the ballot and even not even getting to the 60% threshold. So this really does make it more difficult not only to pass constitutional amendments by citizens and groups, but even to get on the ballot.

INSKEEP: How did this happen to get on the ballot itself right now?

KASLER: Well, you mentioned it. It's an abortion amendment that's coming up in fall. Last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion, Ohio's six-week abortion ban went into effect. There were a lot of terrible stories, including one of a 10-year-old rape victim who had to go to Indiana to get treatment because no Ohio doctor felt comfortable treating her.

And so abortion rights groups then started to draft an amendment to guarantee abortion rights in Ohio's constitution. Abortion rights have been upheld in other red states, but by less than 60%. And so state lawmakers brought up the idea of, let's raise the threshold to get an amendment to 60%. And that's where we are right now.

INSKEEP: I just want to underline this to be very clear because it's complicated. You're telling me that Republicans looked ahead and saw that they might lose an election in November on abortion. So they said, let's change the rules so that even when we lose, we win. Is that correct?

KASLER: Well, Republicans will tell you it's about more than just abortion, that they're worried about keeping out-of-state special interests with a lot of money from buying their way into Ohio's constitution. But what's interesting in this is that out-of-state money has been coming in on both sides of this issue. And certainly, the abortion issue coming up in just a couple of months is one thing that is brought up quite often as this is the reason that this vote is happening now in the middle of summer.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about it being in the middle of summer. This is a time when you have very light turnout elections, and a small interest group can turn an election. So is this turning out to be a low-turnout election as Republicans might have hoped?

KASLER: It's probably going to be a low-turnout election, I mean, comparatively. People are thinking about other things rather than voting. But the turnout so far, because Ohio has a month of early voting, has been pretty tremendous. I mean, there have been lines in some urban areas. And so today's turnout is going to be really important.

INSKEEP: Karen Kasler is the bureau chief at the Statehouse News Bureau in Ohio. And she is covering today's vote on changing the state constitution happening on this Tuesday in August. Karen, thanks so much.

KASLER: It's great to be here. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Karen Kasler
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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