With no local races, Ohio and Mississippi ballot measures steal spotlight

Marshall Cohen

Although most off-year elections are low-profile events – or in Evanston’s case, not held at all – voters in Ohio and Mississippi cast ballots Tuesday on two contentious measures relating to union rights and abortion, respectively.

Voters in Ohio overwhelmingly chose to repeal a bill signed by Gov. John Kasich in March that would have limited collective bargaining for public employees. And in Mississippi, voters rejected an initiative that would have amended the state constitution to define personhood as beginning “at the moment of fertilization.”

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, 61 percent of Ohio voters chose to reject Issue 2, overturning legislation that would have banned strikes by public unions and forced the 400,000 public employees in the state to pay more toward their own benefits. Thirty-nine percent of voters wanted to keep the legislation in place.

The referendum drew national attention because it marked the first time voters weighed in on the controversial issue, which rose to the political forefront last year after lawmakers in several Midwest states passed sweeping anti-union legislation.

Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said the result of the referendum was “an important step in rebuilding the middle class” in an email to The Daily after the results were announced Tuesday night.

“There were a lot of workers here in Illinois that volunteered hours making phone calls into Ohio to help,” Carrigan said. “The corporate special interests fixed a target on hard-working public sector workers and the people of Ohio didn’t buy it.”

The Daily Beast reported in an article Sunday that labor groups in Ohio raised more than $30 million for the pro-repeal campaign, and business organizations raised $7 million to fight against repeal.

Blair Garber, the Evanston committeeman for the Cook County Republican Party, said the “inherently corrupt” work of labor unions led to the defeat of the bill Kasich had once championed.

“Unions overturned the legislation by buying votes,” Garber said. “They are the ones with the money. They are political creatures that wouldn’t exist without politics, and they definitely don’t represent the constituents.”

Meanwhile in Mississippi, 58 percent of voters rejected Initiative 26. The initiative would have amended the state constitution to legally define a fertilized egg as a person. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, 42 percent of voters supported the amendment that would have effectively banned all abortions in the state, even in cases of rape or incest.

Experts said the amendment would have led to an onslaught of legal challenges against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that nationally legalized first trimester abortions.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood Illinois, hailed the defeat of Initiative 26 as a victory for all women.

“We certainly know that the polling had shown this was neck-and-neck,” Sutherland said. “The proposed amendment really went too far and clearly Americans do not support it.”

William Beckman, executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, said he agreed with the language of the proposed amendment and that its passage would have been “a good thing.” He added the failed amendment worked to “bring the issue of personhood to light.”

“This is one way to push the agenda, and it basically educates the public with valid arguments,” Beckman said. “Having these debates is a good thing and hopefully other states will do it.”

In fact, efforts are currently underway to put personhood on the 2012 ballot in at least nine other states, including California, Florida and Ohio.

Erin Matson, the action vice president of the National Organization for Women – which successfully campaigned against the amendment in Mississippi – said the personhood movement “is not going away” after its defeat at the polls Tuesday.

“Supporters of women’s right are going to have to continue fighting these initiatives throughout the county, and we know there are more coming,” Matson said. “We have seen a very clear statement of the intentions of the anti-abortion movement this year.”

Evanston residents did not go to the polls Tuesday, as there were no races up for election.

Deputy City Clerk Elaine Autwell said “different states hold different elections” and added that the next chance for Evanston residents to cast ballots is March 20, 2012, when all of Illinois will hold primary elections.

Voters will nominate candidates to run for president of the United States, U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, Autwell said.

“Residents can choose in March which candidate they are going to want to vote for president in November,” Autwell said.

Candidates for the Illinois Senate and the Illinois General Assembly will also be nominated in March, according to the Cook County Clerk website. The general election will be held on Nov. 6, 2012.

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NOTE: This article is an extended version of what was printed in the Nov. 9 issue of THE DAILY.

Update: This article has been updated on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 12:14 p.m. to reflect the most recent vote count.