There's already confusion over the abortion ballot language in Ohio. It's going to get worse
Ohio voters will decide Nov. 7 on Issue 1, an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. There already has been confusion over the ballot language for it. And there will be a lot more between now and Election Day.
The language the five-member ballot board chose to summarize the amendment on ballots voters will see is being challenged in the Ohio Supreme Court. Backers of Issue 1 wanted the court to use the actual amendment itself — which was the language approved by Attorney General Dave Yost and the language on the petitions more than 700,000 Ohioans signed. But Republicans who control the ballot board chose to go with wording written by Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office. Though the ballot board meeting was not for debating the issue, Sen. Teresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), who opposes abortion rights, said the amendment language was vague and should not be used.
"No one should be fooled by the clever language of this amendment. It's designed to be broad, so broad that should it pass, it is unequivocally true that access to late-term abortions will be written into Ohio's constitution. This amendment is a bridge too far," Gavarone said.
The use of the term "late term abortion" is not a medical one. And neither is the term "unborn child," a term that replaced "fetus" in the original ballot language and is now being challenged. Backers of the amendment said the language chosen for the summary is politically biased and untruthful. And they are asking the Ohio Supreme Court to change it.
Bowling Green Political Science Professor Melissa Miller said the ballot summary language as it stands right now is substantially different than the language in the amendment itself. And she said if it stands, that will likely lead to voter confusion — something that could benefit the vote "no" side.
"I don't know that this ballot language is going to flip from one side to the other but you know, if it's a close election, these little changes can make a marginal difference," Miller said.
Confusion over the use of 'Issue 1'
Confusion doesn't stop with ballot language. Those who backed the "vote no" side on an August ballot issue to change the constitution to make it harder to pass constitutional amendments prevailed. But now, many in that same camp are trying to get Ohioans to vote "yes" on the amendment — also known as Issue 1 — in November.
Recently, the leader of the influential conservative group Citizens for Christian Virtue shared memes using the "vote no" signs that were prevalent in August to convey a "vote no" message for November.
CCV leader Aaron Baer left the words "One Person, One Vote," the name of the group against the August issue, on those memes. Baer said he was just having fun on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and said there was no reason to discuss it further. Dennis Willard is the spokesman for One Person, One Vote, and doesn't find the humor in it.
"They continue to insult the intelligence of voters by appropriating our brand and our winning message of One Person, One Vote. But Ohioans are smart. They saw through the lies in August and they won't be fooled in November," Willard said.
How you can sort through it
If past is prologue, signs or memes from August will be refashioned for November by the "vote no" on the anti-abortion rightsside. And Justin Buchler, associate professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University, said he expects plenty of confusing memes, ads, mailers and more. He said there's little benefit for the no side when voters are confused. He said the best way for voters to sift through the confusion is to turn to trusted interest groups that share their opinion.
"When it comes to abortion, the vast majority of voters have a pretty coherent opinion. And that means that even if they can't parse the language of a ballot proposition, all they really need is for a trusted interest group to tell them, 'If you are pro-choice, vote one way, if you are pro-life, vote another,' " Buchler said.
It's already happening. Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, a coalition behind Issue 1, has set up the website, readtheamendment.com, which simply presents the ballot language as approved by the attorney general, and — if passed — would appear in the Ohio Constitution.