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Abortion and pot on the same ballot: Political experts weigh in on how it might affect outcomes

Precinct captain in Upper Arlington reporting voting as steady today.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
A voter in Upper Arlington casting a ballot on August 8, 2023

Ohio voters will decide two controversial issues on the ballot in November — whether to pass a law to legalize marijuana and whether to amend the state’s constitution to include the right to an abortion.

Political experts said how having two controversial issues on the ballot will affect the outcomes of either will depend on several factors.

Older voters will likely come out in force, as they usually do, said Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University. They likely will be more inclined to vote against both measures, he said.

So younger voters might be key to victory or defeat of those two issues, he said. Both issues are popular with younger voters, Beck said, and Issue 1’s defeat shows some are energized already.

“And I expect them to be drawn in November as well for both reasons — both for the marijuana legalization, as well as for the right to abortion amendment,” Beck said.

Beck believes those who oppose the abortion amendment will hit it hard, saying it’s extreme. But he said he’s not sure that will resonate with many voters because the amendment is very close to what was in place before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last summer.

“25 or 26 weeks would be the demarcation points, and that’s about Roe v. Wade, where it ended up. So, I think it’s not a radical abortion amendment. On the other hand, it will certainly be portrayed as a radical abortion amendment and the forces that are pro-life are going to be heavily involved, and that means the churches will be heavily involved,” Beck said.

Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said having both the abortion constitutional amendment and the marijuana legalization law on the ballot at the same time might make it easier for Republicans who oppose the issues to pursue a strategy to defeat them.

“This will give them some credence to argue that this is really a larger issue than just abortion. This is at a cultural division and voters should be very careful before they allow these kinds of efforts to amend the state constitution on these kinds of issues,” Smith said.

Smith’s not 100% sure that having both on the same ballot will matter that much politically, because people who are largely pro-choice are largely for legal marijuana — and those who oppose abortion also likely will vote against legal cannabis.

“It feels like the constituencies involved here would probably break on similar lines, regardless of whether either one of these issues are on the ballot or both of them are,” Smith said.

As far as attracting voters to the polls, Smith said it's possible that one issue could attract voters to the polls and then they would vote on the other. But he said that would only be meaningful if they vote differently than what is expected.

Smith said voters who turned out to vote on Issue 1 will likely show up again in November. But he said it’s possible some of those who opposed Issue 1 won't vote for abortion rights and legalized marijuana. And he noted the “no” sides of those issues will have an inherent advantage because voters who show up in November are likely to vote “no” if they are confused about the issues.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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