Ohio voters soundly defeated a drug sentencing and prison reform initiative known as Issue 1 on Tuesday. Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman says he “did not expect that it would get crushed, going down to defeat 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent.” Berman says Issue 1’s huge loss is startling given that Ohio’s Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown won re-election by 6 percent and its Democratic Governor candidate Richard Cordray, who endorsed Issue 1, lost by only four percentage points. This means that a huge number of progressively minded voters decided to vote for liberal candidates and against Issue 1.
Berman says Issue 1’s big defeat is even more startling given that a somewhat similar ballot initiative in 2016 passed in Oklahoma by 16 percent, 58 percent to 42 percent. Given that Oklahoma is a seemingly much “redder” state than Ohio and that 2016 was seemingly a somewhat “redder” election than 2018, the 43 percent difference in outcomes in these initiatives leads Berman to conclude that just how a criminal justice reform is pursued through a ballot initiative can make a big difference. The Oklahoma initiative sought a fairly modest statutory change; the Ohio measure pursued a fairly aggressive set of reforms that would have been locked into the state constitution. Perhaps even more importantly, legislative “insiders” and other state GOP leaders were integrally involved in drafting and getting the Oklahoma initiative on the ballot in 2016. The same type of insiders seemingly had no role in the Ohio campaign, and nearly all of them — most notably, all the GOP candidates and many prominent judges, prosecutors and police — actively campaigned against Issue 1.