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Early Voting Is Still Way Up in Ohio

Politics-watchers across the country are watching Ohio, and the fight over Issue 1, with interest. The plan to sneak it in under the radar has been a colossal failure, as indicated by the number of votes already cast, and by the extensive coverage of the story. There has certainly been plenty of news this week.

We're going to start with Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who is ultimately responsible for counting the votes once they are cast. It would be nice if the people who count votes in the United States were nonpartisan civil employees, the way it is in nearly all other industrialized countries. But that's not the system the U.S. has. LaRose is much more concerned about his U.S. Senate bid than he is about cultivating an image of integrity, so he has been publicly campaigning for Issue 1, appearances be damned. As a result, the Libertarian Party of Ohio has sued him for violating the Hatch Act. We wouldn't have guessed it would be the Libertarians, but there it is.

The Hatch Act is relatively toothless, so we don't expect much to come of this suit. Certainly it won't come before Election Day on August 8. We mention it, however, because it is LaRose's job to keep Ohioans informed about what's going on with the election. And while the first update was crystal clear, the second one requires a bit more work to parse. One wonders if the Secretary is trying to obscure that things aren't going so well.

Whether there is nefariousness or not, the numbers are nonetheless there, and are... impressive. As of July 27, the state has received 100,989 absentee ballots, 6,841 hand-delivered ballots, 15,853 drop-box ballots, and 231,800 cast-in-person ballots. That's a total of 355,483 votes cast so far (and again, the totals are a week out of date, because that's how the Ohio government rolls). In the first week of early voting, an average of 16,000 ballots were cast per day; in the second week, it was an average of 18,000. Polling-place hours expanded on Monday of this week, so those averages will presumably continue to climb, even though the deadline for absentee ballots has arrived. Even if there isn't a single additional ballot, the tally has already doubled the early voting from last year's U.S. Senate primaries and is a fivefold increase over the early voting in August 2022 (for state legislature).

There have been two recent polls of Ohio voters on Issue 1, and they say different things. The one from USA Today/Suffolk has 57% opposing Issue 1, while 26% support it and 17% are undecided. That would mean a solid majority wants to keep things as they are, with 50% + 1 of the voters able to approve a ballot initiative (say, the one in November safeguarding abortion access), as opposed to making it 60% + 1. Meanwhile, the poll from Ohio Northern University (ONU) says 42% support the measure, 41% oppose it and 17% are undecided.

It's not easy to poll an election like this, which is why there's such a big spread. We will point out that ONU is local, which is usually a point in a pollster's favor. That said, they are also newbies to the polling game, while Suffolk is among the elites. It is also the case that other polls favor the conclusions of USA Today/Suffolk, and that early voting thus far has been concentrated in blue counties. That said, sometimes the side that thinks it's winning rests on its laurels, while the side that thinks it's losing rallies to the cause. Further, the fact that people could be confused about what voting "for" or "against" means (e.g., if you want to protect abortion in November, you should vote "no" in August) could introduce a wildcard. The upshot is that we still think Issue 1 will fail by a sizable margin, but it's not a slam dunk. (Z)

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