COLUMBUS — Ohio voters can breathe a sigh of relief.
For the first time since 2007, not a single statewide issue will appear on the November ballot. No tough decisions to make, no glut of TV commercials arguing over casinos, labor rights, animal treatment, or predatory lending.
The July 3 deadline for filing petitions to put a question to voters came and went, virtually unnoticed, as efforts to gather signatures either fizzled or candidates made calculated political decisions to keep their powder dry for next year’s higher-profile gubernatorial election.
So, voters, rest while you can.
In a single election in November, 2014, you may have to decide whether to lift Ohio’s ban on gay marriage, allow marijuana for medical use, again weigh in on the relationship between employees and workplace labor unions, and whether to save those storefront Internet “sweepstakes” cafes that lawmakers have moved to shut down.
“It’s very unusual for Ohio to have all of those on the ballot, but it’s not unprecedented in the U.S. at all,” said John Green, director of the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “California, Oregon, and Colorado have had an extraordinary level of activity.”
The ballot issues could become inextricably intertwined with candidates as they maneuver through issues they would like to embrace while avoiding taking positions on others when they’re trying to appeal to a broad swath of voters.
Republican Gov. John Kasich, for instance, saw his poll numbers plummet in 2011 amid the battle over Senate Bill 5, the restrictions on public employee unions that he signed into law and voters subsequently rejected.
His numbers have since rebounded, but the so-called effort to make Ohio the latest right-to-work state, restricting the ability of workplace unions to collect fees from nonmembers in lieu of dues, threatens to resurrect that battle.
Mr. Kasich has made it clear he would prefer the proposed constitutional amendment did not happen. A legislative attempt to directly put the question on the ballot has been shelved. Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) said such a move would simply serve to launch “a bunch of breathless fund-raising appeals from the Ohio Democratic Party.”
Meanwhile, his presumed Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, recently urged a ballot fight over restrictions on abortion enacted in the new state budget by Republican lawmakers and Mr. Kasich. If successful, that question would appear on the ballot at the same time he and Mr. Kasich will.
Mr. Green said politics can be critical to the timing of ballot issues, as they are used to drive turnout of desired voters to the polls.
“My guess is the right-to-work amendment will probably, on balance, favor Democrats,” he said. “We saw that with Senate Bill 5. Labor unions can be very unified across diversity when they feel their interests are threatened. The other two issues are complicated. Same-sex marriage is likely to mobilize both sides. …
“If we take history as a guide, that might favor more conservatives because of their proven ability to mobilize members of churches, social conservatives, tea party activists. Medical marijuana may have a similar effect. There are people who are strongly for it, and people who are strongly against it. It could be that those two issues would provide Republicans with more of an advantage.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.