Last Wednesday We Are Ohio dropped off 1,298,301 signatures at the Secretary of State’s office to put the citizen veto of SB 5 on the ballot. For the time being that puts activists in a bit of a holding pattern. Enough signatures need to be validated to put it on the ballot in November, and since there are over a million past the threshold it will take some time. It’s very, very likely - but until it’s official, it isn’t done.
Provided that happens, the next step will be figuring out how to get the word out. Part of that will depend on the ballot language. Since the intent is to overturn an existing law it would be preferable to have it be a “no” vote. It also would help keep the message consistent through election day. Going from No On SB 5 to No On Issue X is smoother than telling everyone who signed a petition that they need to vote “yes” to overturn the law. For that very reason supporters of the law have an incentive to muddy the waters; the citizen veto could well be a “yes” vote precisely because those who want to preserve the law will be calling the shots on the ballot language.
Once summer starts winding down, right wing astroturf groups will start cranking up the Wurlitzer. State Policy Network front groups like Buckeye Institute (via) will start pumping out their anti-tax platitudes (corrected the broken link from your front page for you, dummies!) and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity will parachute in with briefcases full of C notes.
Activists will need to counter their efforts the old fashioned way: door to door and neighbor to neighbor. We cannot compete with right wing funding; we will necessarily have to concede certain advantages to them. We will not be able to buy commercials like they will, so we have to be prepared to counter the messages that are sure to blanket the airwaves.
There are two other factors in play. The first is what I affectionately call the Tea Party Single Payer Amendment. While SB 5 has gotten all the attention, a group called the Ohio Liberty Council has pushed an effort to allow Ohio to opt out of ZOMGObamacare. Should it actually pass and get struck down, it seems we could end up being Constitutionally required to…implement a farther reaching health care package via federal waiver like Vermont did.
Unintended consequences notwithstanding, the goal seems to be to drive turnout on the right as a countervailing force to SB 5 activists. It probably will get more of the right’s base moving, meaning we will have to work that much harder to get the law overturned. It would probably be a good idea not to get too confident by polls showing solid support for a citizen veto. In an odd numbered year with a chunk of red meat hung out for reactionaries, it could be much closer than anyone expects right now.
That is particularly true in an off year election when getting out the vote is key, and that is where the other factor comes into play. Ohio just passed a law that bars poll workers from directing voters to the correct voting precinct if they go to the wrong one. In 2008, when workers were legally required to help, there were 14,000 wrong-precinct votes not counted. That problem will now get worse. State Senator Nina Turner objected that this disenfranchisement was most likely to occur in Democratic-leaning areas and tartly observed: “I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter.” Considering that in person vote fraud is a Republican scam in general and that Ohio State Law Professor Dan Tokaji only knows of only one - one! - example of it in Ohio, it seems clear that the GOP’s longstanding vote suppression effort will be more successful this time around.
The conservative effort to support Governor Wall Street with saturation coverage and base-pleasing legislation is a wild card. No one can know in advance how much it will work or how to control for it. Getting out the vote is a little more knowable because it’s possible to aggressively reach out to those most likely to be hurt by the new law, and make sure they get to the right place. But both represent issues that could threaten the effort to overturn SB 5. There’s a good chance that emphatic majority support for repeal will be necessary but not sufficient. Activists would be wise to take nothing for granted.