Vote sign

ASHLAND — Ohio voters turned down Issue 1 on Tuesday night, but Ashland County told a different story.

Issue 1, a proposed amendment aimed at making the state’s constitution more difficult to change, became the subject of this year’s August special election, which took place on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

Voters statewide rejected the change by a 57% to 43% margin on Tuesday, according to unofficial election results from the Secretary of State.

“I’m grateful that nearly 1.3 million Ohioans stood with us in this fight, but this is only one battle in a long war,” said Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose in a statement Tuesday night. “Unfortunately, we were dramatically outspent by dark money billionaires from California to New York, and the giant ‘for sale’ sign still hangs on Ohio’s constitution. Ohioans will see the devastating impact of this vote soon enough.

“The radical activists that opposed Issue 1 are already planning amendments to shut parents out of a child’s life-altering medical procedure, force job killing wage mandates on small businesses, prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting their families and removing critical protections for our first responders.

“I’ve said for months now that there’s an assault coming on our constitution, and that hasn’t changed. I’m just getting started in the fight to protect Ohio’s values.”

According to reporting from PBS NewsHour, both sides of the Issue 1 fight were largely funded by spending from outside of the state.

Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown lauded voters’ decision Tuesday night.

“Ohioans saw this amendment for what it was: a power grab by powerful people designed to silence their voices,” Brown said in a statement. “By rejecting State Issue 1, Ohioans rejected special interests and demanded that democracy remain where it belongs – in the hands of voters, not the rich and powerful. That is what has always guided me and I am proud to stand with Ohioans in this fight.”

Ashland County’s election differed significantly from the statewide results. Unofficial results showed over 63% of voters who participated in Ashland approving the constitutional change.

That’s with a 41.44% voter turnout — a higher turnout than last year’s August election, according to Amanda Jones, the director of Ashland County’s Board of Elections. Over 14,000 Ashland County residents cast ballots in this election.

Some counties in the state experienced struggles with the election. Several locations in Summit County had issues with ballots jamming polling machines, and two polling locations in Stark County ran out of ballots near the end of the day, according to reporting from Ohio Capital Journal.

Jones said things ran smoothly in Ashland County, even with a steady turnout at polling places county-wide.

Officially, proponents argued that Issue 1 offered a chance to keep big money out of Ohio politics. Opponents said a Yes vote would have taken away majority rule and undone constitutional protections that have been in place for over 100 years. 

Another issue became intertwined with Issue 1: abortion. 

Ohio’s Sec. of State, Frank LaRose, denied the amendment was about abortion, but according to reporting from News 5 Cleveland, he told supporters at a rally in May that Issue 1 was “100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution.”

Ohioans will get to vote on an abortion rights amendment on the ballot in November.

In the lead-up to the election, people on both sides of Issue 1 took to Corner Park in Ashland to share their views.

Corner Park’s Issue 1 supporters

On Aug. 4, Dianne Nelson and Matt Young, a Loudonville village councilman, stood at Corner Park. Nelson wore a “Make America Great Again” hat and a shirt proclaiming, “I stand with Donald Trump.” They advocated for a “yes” vote on Issue 1.

Dianne Nelson waves at cars at Corner Park on Aug. 4, 2023. Nelson is urging voters to say “yes” to Issue 1.

Nelson stood on the street corner nearly every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the three weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election. A grandmother and great grandmother, Nelson said she aimed to do what she could to help her country.

She said around 15-20 people have volunteered with her over the course of the last three weeks, and she ran out of signs and had to request more. 

“I’m happy to spend the time doing it,” Nelson said. 

The pair handed out signs. One woman stopped to pick up a sign, telling them hers had been stolen from her yard. She left with two.

Some people waved and gave them a thumbs-up as they drove past the street corner. 

Ashland County commissioner James Justice came out to express his support for their work, too. He said he supported Issue 1 because he’s against abortion. 

Young and Nelson both said they were supporting the state’s constitution.

“Ohio needs to have more respect for our constitution,” Young said.

He said that the federal constitution requires a two-thirds vote to amend it. He doesn’t think the state’s constitution should change easily. 

Nelson comes equipped with signs to set up in Corner Park while she’s out there. The signs on Aug. 4, 2023, read, “Vote Yes ISSUE 1 August 8th” and “Find Hope in Jesus.”

Nelson agreed with Young that the state’s constitution deserved respect. Both Nelson and Young felt the arguments against Issue 1 were misguided. 

“Democrats are trying to say that Republicans are trying to take away their vote,” Nelson said. “It is a lie.” 

She argued Issue 1 wouldn’t have taken away peoples’ ability to vote, nor did she view it as taking away the ability to petition for citizen-led initiatives. Instead, in her view, it’s better to include every county. 

“Why alienate half the state for something to be codified?” Nelson said. “It’s not a radical idea to get signatures from every county.” 

Nelson viewed her demonstration at Corner Park as a chance to engage in conversation and explain Issue 1 to voters. She said that over the last three weeks, she had many chances to explain the issue and talk to people in Ashland.

Opponents take Corner Park

Nelson and Young aren’t the only ones who took to Corner Park to share their thoughts on Issue 1 ahead of Tuesday’s election. On Aug. 5, Ralph Wamack, a two-term veteran, stood on the corner. 

Ralph Wamack, a two-term veteran, stands at Corner Park on Aug. 5, 2023. Wamack encouraged people to vote no on Issue 1.

Saturday was his first time taking to the street corner to express his opinion. He hoped to catch more people voting early on that day. 

Around his neck, a sign proclaimed, “Remember H.B. 6, here we go again, more lies & theft, vote no.” 

He held another: “Honk your horn for no Issue #1.” 

Many people honked their horns as they drove past him on Saturday afternoon.

He appeared on the street corner by himself, and at 2 p.m., no proponents were in sight. Wamack said they left after he showed up on Saturday morning. 

“As far as I’m concerned, they’ve got every right to be out here,” he said. “That’s what I served my country for.”

But Wamack views Issue 1 differently. To him, Issue 1 was a way that Republicans were trying to hold onto power in Ohio.

He said he asked people to honk their horns so he could hear how much support he was receiving. And he said he included House Bill 6 on the sign to remind people about the 2020 scandal. 

That scandal involved the trial and conviction of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former GOP Chairman Matt Borges. The pair were convicted of a racketeering conspiracy, receiving bribes to pass and uphold a nuclear plant bailout, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Householder received a 20-year sentence in June.

Wamack thinks that’s an indicator of the Republican party in Ohio being corrupt. 

“They’re thinking everyone forgot about House Bill 6,” Wamack said. “I did not.” 

Wamack questioned why Ohio’s constitution needs to change. 

“It’s been like that for hundreds of years,” he said. “Why mess with it now?”

He encouraged people to vote No. 

“I’m hoping enough people have enough common sense that they’ll vote it down,” Wamack said.

What’s next?

Jones, the Board of Elections’ director, said the organization plans to certify Ashland County’s election results on Aug. 21 at 3:30 p.m.

She said voters have until Saturday to provide additional information with their provisional ballots. She added that ballots mailed and postmarked on Monday, before the election, need to arrive at the elections office by Saturday to be counted.

Ohio’s next election will take place in November. The November election will see a chance to vote for school boards, municipal government, recalls and at least one statewide ballot measure.

The statewide ballot measure that will be on the ballot in November would codify abortion access into the state constitution. It will need a 50% plus 1 vote to pass.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...