On the face of it, a referendum in the US state of Ohio on Tuesday was to decide a trifling technicality.

But the resounding defeat of a measure, known innocuously as “Issue 1” could have huge ramifications for the Republican Party and the prospects of Donald Trump – who Ohioans voted for in 2020 – heading back in to the White House.

Indeed, his silence on Issue 1 has been palpable.

It also could be a sign that there’s a limit to the limits that can be put on abortion in the US.

On Wednesday morning, local time, Ohioans had voted 57 per cent to 43 per cent against Issue 1. In the state capital Columbus, a massive 75 per cent of voters said No.

The August poll, held in a summer month when fewer people generally vote, saw huge numbers take part. Around 700,000 Ohioans voted by mail.

Yet Issue 1 was about, on the face of it, a tiny detail of election law. If passed, it would have seen the bar on constitutional amendments being passed in future referendums from a simple majority – 50 per cent of voters plus one – to 60 per cent.

Talking to the BBC before the result, Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a leading campaigner to raise the threshold to 60 per cent, said: “To allow a bare majority of 50 per cent plus one to change the very ground rules that the state operates on is just not good public policy”.

Yet that had been the policy for more than a century in Ohio and few people had been concerned.

‘100 per cent about abortion’

In a video recorded by Scanner Media in May, Mr LaRose appeared to let the cat out of the bag saying: “This is 100 per cent about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution. The left wants to jam it in there this coming November”.

What’s happening in November is that Ohioans will again go to the polls, this time to decide if a right to abortion should be enshrined in the state’s constitution.

That’s in response to the Supreme Court’s June 2022 overturning of countrywide protections for abortion. Now, it’s up to individual states to decide whether women should be able to terminate their pregnancies and, if so, at what point and under which circumstances.

At least 21 states have now banned or heavily restricted abortion. Indeed, Ohio has a ban on abortions more than six weeks after conception.

But polls in Ohio, a swing state with a lean towards the Republicans, have shown 58 per cent of people favour abortion rights being added to the constitution.

If correct, that’s a figure that would sail through the current threshold of 50 per cent.

But it would have failed if Issue 1 had passed and the threshold has been raised to 60 per cent.

Critics of Issue 1 said it was nothing more than an attempt by abortion critics to ignore the result in November’s referendum.

“It was a rush job on a monumental question, shifting a 111-year-old right that Ohioans have had to amend their state constitution to making it darn near impossible to do so with a 60 per cent threshold,” said Democratic former state Representative Mike Curtin.

Voters not backing Republicans on abortion

Issue 1’s failure in Ohio is bad news for the Republicans. Particularly as it’s not the first poll in a red state to push back against abortion limits.

In August last year, voters in Kansas, mostly Republican and conservative, rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state politicians to enshrine a ban on abortion. In Kentucky, a similar vote had the same outcome.

Writing on CNN, University of California Davis law professor Mary Zeigler said voter’s rejection of Issue 1 “will give Republicans in other states second thoughts”.

“The Issue 1 vote may well be the biggest victory for abortion rights in the states since the Supreme Court overturned Roe”.

The danger for the Republican Party is that by going full throttle on attacking abortion rights it has moved away from the beliefs of many of its core voters.

Donald Trump’s quandary

Before November’s midterm elections a number of Donald Trump supporters in Florida who were anti-abortion told news.com.au they were concerned it could be a step too far for many Americans.

“I think it’s totally true that some people will vote Democrat because of (abortion),” said Kathleen, in the city of Melbourne near Orlando.

In the midterm elections, it’s been suggested that the Republicans’ less than stellar performance was due to abortion.

Mr Trump himself has taken credit for the rolling back of abortion rights nationwide.

The overturning of Roe vs. Wade was “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised,” he said after the Supreme Court’s decision which he called a “win for life”.

However, the man who loves a social media rant, has been conspicuously silent on the Ohio result.

Mr Trump’s front runner status for Republican presidential candidate is partly due to the enthusiasm for him from deeply conservative party members; people who are in favour of more abortion bans – perhaps even nationwide.

Yet a CNN poll this month showed 64 per cent of Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court’s ruling against abortion.

To widen his appeal among centrist voters, including many in Ohio, he might have to shift away from the hard line desires of the right of the party. It’s a move that could alienate his core supporters and peel off votes.

Prof Zeigler cautioned that Republican attempts to restrict abortion wasn’t a slam dunk for Democrats.

“It’s one thing to turn voters out for abortion when a single initiative will decide a great deal about access in a state. It’s another to be motivated to vote for a candidate when it’s unclear what kind of tangible difference they could make, and there are other issues at play.”

Nonetheless, a referendum on an election technicality in Ohio could reverberate throughout the nation, split the Republicans and cause Mr Trump to make some difficult decisions if he wants to become President once again.

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By Rahul

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