Early voting is underway in Ohio, where a fierce fight with political and economic implications is forcing voters to pick sides between Republican budget-cutters and public workers' unions. At issue is whether to keep or repeal SB 5, a controversial bill supported by Gov. John Kasich and passed by the GOP-dominated legislature this spring. Among other things, SB 5 dramatically restricts Ohio's public sector workers collective bargaining rights. Under SB 5, public employees cannot strike or negotiate for wages or working conditions.
The bill is already signed into law, but enough Ohioans signed a repeal petition over the summer to get a repeal measure on the Nov. 8 ballot as Issue 2 — a "yes" vote signals support for collective bargaining limits, a "no" vote is in favor of SB 5's repeal.
In what has been a sometimes-chaotic display of democracy, firefighters are marching in the suburbs, voters are packing town halls and commercial breaks are filled with campaign ads that feature teachers, families struggling to make ends meet and even an angry great grandmother. More than $40 million dollars are expected to be spent among both sides to try and win the pitched political battle.
The stakes are high. Public employees who oppose Issue 2 say the measure's passage threatens their very livelihoods. Small-government conservatives argue passage is key to opening up merit-based pay structures and gives government far more flexibility. And political observers are watching closely to see what the outcome of this referendum says about the Buckeye State electorate heading into the presidential year.
So far, polls show the law limiting collective bargaining is headed toward repeal. But supporters of Issue 2 say they are gaining momentum as they educate more voters.
The law affects all public workers in Ohio, including — or perhaps especially —teachers. NPR's StateImpact Ohio, which focuses its coverage on education policy, details the implications of Issue 2 on schools and universities.
Elise Hu is the digital editor of NPR's StateImpact effort, which focuses on government reporting in the states. Read more about it.