Aug 8, 2023 - Podcasts

Ohio's anti-abortion blueprint

Ohio is holding a special election on Tuesday for voters to decide how easy it should be to amend the state constitution. It is the only item on the ballot and it's called Issue 1. Supporters of the proposal want to make it more difficult for an abortion rights amendment to pass in the state's general election in November.

The big picture: Issue 1 is getting national attention because of what it could mean for abortion rights in Ohio as well as its impact on special interests in that state and beyond.

  • Plus, a renewed push to get felons the right to vote in 2024.
  • And, the video game Fortnite will be the setting for an unofficial Holocaust museum.

Guests: Axios' Troy Smith and Eugene Scott.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.


Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It's Tuesday, August 8. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Today: a renewed push to get felons the right to vote in 2024. Plus, severe weather across the U.S. But first, how Ohio could provide an anti-abortion blueprint for other states…that's today's One Big Thing.

How Ohio could provide an anti-abortion blueprint for other states

NIALA: Today, voters in a special election in Ohio will decide how easy it should be to amend the state constitution. The ballot proposal called Issue 1 is getting national attention because of what it could mean for abortion rights in Ohio and its effect on special interests in that state and beyond.

Troy Smith is a reporter with Axios Cleveland. Hi Troy. Welcome to Axios Today.

TROY SMITH: Hi. Thanks.

NIALA: Troy, what exactly is Issue 1 proposing?

TROY: Issue 1 proposes raising the threshold to amend the Ohio Constitution from what has been a simple majority for a very long time to 60%.

NIALA: Do other states have similar thresholds, or would Ohio be the first to change it to this?

TROY: Ohio would actually be the second, highest threshold. New Hampshire is 66% is their threshold. Florida's at 60% and Colorado's at 55%.

NIALA: And what's the backstory behind this?

TROY: Well, the Republican lawmakers who came up with this election and Issue 1 will tell you it's to protect the state from out-of-state interests. But there's an amendment to enshrine abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution that will be voted on in November, and Republican lawmakers want to make it harder for that to pass.

The message for Issue 1 from the Republicans and the anti-abortion activists is that the goal for Issue 1 is to prevent out-of-state interests from coming into play. But the reality is the majority of money leading the campaign for Issue 1 is coming from an out-of-state conservative Illinois billionaire.

NIALA: When you talk to folks on the ground in Cleveland or other parts of Ohio, is this really to most people's minds about abortion and abortion access?

TROY: It is and it has been. But I think you have a contingent of people who are a little upset that they're one vote, sort of the majority rule. The idea of democracy as they view it is perhaps being taken away from them.

NIALA: Do we see other states trying similar things to curb access to abortion? Is what's happening in Ohio…could this serve as some sort of blueprint?

TROY: 100% I think that's the big thing. There's a reason you see both sides actually funded by a lot of out-of-state donors, you know, the people for Issue 1 and the people against. I believe it's 76 similar initiatives like Issue 1 trying to stop these ballot initiatives in states like Florida, Arizona, South Dakota, just so many states because these states where there's popular legislation that people want to pass, but they feel like they don't have the legislators in place to do it for them, there's been a trend of them going to these ballot initiatives.

In Ohio, everyone's focused on Ohio and abortion rights in Ohio, and the idea of keeping a simple majority or pushing it to 60% depending on what side you're on. But this vote and the vote on abortion rights ultimately in November is really symbolic of, I think, what you're going to see in several states as we get into the election in 2024.

If this works in Ohio and Issue 1 is successful, you're gonna see legislators using this tactic to prevent ballot initiatives in several states. And if it isn't successful, they're gonna go have to go back to the drawing board and find a different way to go about this.

NIALA: That's Axios Cleveland's Troy Smith. Thanks, Troy.

TROY: Thank you.

More headlines

Here are some headlines we're following today:

The Red Cross yesterday officially ended its blood donor restrictions on gay and bisexual men. The FDA's guidance on this changed back in May, and now, risk assessments for exposure to HIV/AIDS will be conducted for all potential donors, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The Red Cross, which provides about 40% of the country's blood and blood components, has warned recently of severe shortages.

Tens of millions of Americans faced severe weather alerts yesterday. As of midafternoon, nearly 30 million were under tornado watches from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The National Weather Service said more than 65 million Americans were under extreme heat warnings as the unrelenting heat wave continues. The heat index climbed well into the hundreds in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, California and others.

And in unexpected virtual-world news… the video game Fortnite will soon be home to an unofficial Holocaust museum. The virtual building - called the Voices of the Forgotten Museum - will let players walk its halls to read plaques describing the genocide in Nazi Germany, and see photos of resistance fighters. Regular gameplay will be disabled within the space. The organizers are hoping to capture even some of the attention of the game's 70 million monthly users.

After the break, new efforts around felon voting rights.

A renewed push to get felons the right to vote in 2024.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

More than 5 million Americans can't vote because of a felony or, in some states, a misdemeanor. And as we get closer to the 2024 presidential election, voting rights advocates across the country are fighting for change, most recently by proposing federal legislation.

Around half of voters would support legislation that guarantees voting rights for all Americans, including those serving or who have served time. That's according to a new survey by Lake Research Partners. Axios' senior politics reporter Eugene Scott is here with the big picture. Hi, Eugene.


NIALA: Eugene, first, where do felon voting rights stand in different states across the U.S.?

EUGENE: Well, it's pretty varied. The reality is that there are places like D. C. and Vermont and Maine where you can vote from prison, and then there are states where you permanently lose voting rights once you've been convicted of a specific crime.

NIALA: And what comes to mind immediately, of course, is Florida because that got so much attention recently. How have things changed, whether it's in Florida or other states, in the past few years on this issue?

EUGENE: Well, uh, in Florida a few years ago, voters passed the ballot initiative allowing felons to vote, once they served their time. Then, the state legislature, which is, uh, pretty Republican-controlled, put in place some requirements that felons must meet, such as maybe paying outstanding fines before they were actually able to have the right to vote.

Activists have said this has been incredibly confusing and some individuals thought they had the right to vote when maybe they...didn't, in fact, have that and Governor Ron DeSantis has, in fact, arrested some individuals who may have voted believing they could vote, but maybe didn't actually have permission to vote.

And so there are some lawsuits happening there and protests coming from both sides of the aisle actually trying to make sure that all felons have the right to vote and that rules for voting are actually clear and not confusing for them.

NIALA: Eugene, in Mississippi last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the state stop enforcing a provision that doesn't allow people convicted of certain felonies to vote. So…this ruling supports felon voting rights…but like in Florida, things still feel pretty unsettled?

EUGENE: Things aren't really clear in these states, and that's why you will continue to see some fighting and, uh, efforts to move things in their respective directions up until 2024, from parties on either side of this issue.

NIALA: And I imagine this confusion is also what's behind a congressional effort to provide some clarity on the federal level. Can you explain what's going on there?

EUGENE: Jasmine Crockett, a congresswoman from Texas, is partnering with Ben Cardin, a senator from Maryland, to advocate for legislation that would make voting rights uniform across the country, for felons regardless of what state they lived in, and make it less confusing for individuals, depending on, uh, where they live and what they've done, and what they hope to do moving forward in the electoral process. It's largely backed at this point, or should I say solely by Democrats with their efforts in place to get conservatives to sign on.

NIALA: And what's the status of that? Can you give us a sense of where those proposals are at?

EUGENE: It was introduced just a couple of weeks ago, and so the last conversation I had with aides from one of the lawmakers is that they have reached out to the bipartisan group of lawmakers that really studies this issue, and they're waiting to hear back from them to see if there's going to be any opportunity for bipartisanship on this issue.

NIALA: What effect do you think restoring felon voting rights at a national level would have on the 2024 presidential elections?

EUGENE: There's some data showing that, when felons do have the right to vote, a significant percentage of them, decide to back Democrats. And so, it's not a surprise that the effort to restore voting rights to felons is getting more support from liberals. This is an issue that is of urgency to voting rights activists because they see this as perhaps one of the fundamental civil rights issues of our time, how we treat citizens regardless of whether they have served time or not.

NIALA: Eugene Scott is a senior politics reporter for Axios. Thanks, Eugene.

EUGENE: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: And that's it for us today! You can always reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or text me at (202) 918-4893.

I'm Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening. Stay safe, and we'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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