Ohioans’ soundly rejected the Issue 1 proposal to reduce prison sentences for felony drug offenders and instead offer a quicker path to rehabilitation.
The results are not official but votes were 2-to-1 against with more than a third of the statewide results reported.
Supporters of the issue were encouraged by turnout in Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties, which reported voter turnout at more than 50 percent, significantly larger than during the last midterms. Cuyahoga, which updated votes cast in real time, had surpassed its total voters in 2014 by 5 p.m.
The proposal was aimed at seeking counseling for people with drug addictions while also reducing Ohio’s prison population. Supporters said it would save significant money for taxpayers, while opponents said the numbers were fuzzy.
Many judges and prosecutors across the state panned the issue because it would change Ohio’s Constitution and affect their ability to help people with addictions. Gov John Kasich also said he was against the proposal.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said the proposal would take power away from judges and prosecutors to use the "stick" of jail time to require treatment. He also said it would reduce the power of judges who operate drug courts where treatment can be made a condition of their punishment and rehabilitation.
Proponents of Issue 1 spent millions trying to get the message out that reducing prison populations and sentences for low-level felony offenses would be good for the public.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray supported the issue. The Ohio Chapter of the NAACP also offered support. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine opposed it.
Even before Tuesday’s election, Issue 1 sparked more calls for prison and sentencing reforms.
A decade ago, the FBI reported 348.2 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Ohio. That same year, Ohio’s prison population was more than 50,000.
Last year, there were 298 violent crimes per 100,000 Ohioans and more than 50,000 inmates.
O’Brien and Democratic Columbus City attorney Zach Klein agreed that reforms are needed and that Issue 1 went too far. The two, who have been political opponents in the past, said it was necessary to come together to offer an alternative if the ballot measure would fail.
They offered what they called "a superior" and bipartisan proposal that would keep jail time as a threat to encourage drug-related felons facing jail time to enter treatment.
Among their proposals:
• Review drug classifications with the goal of reducing most fourth- and fifth-degree felony possession offenses to first-degree misdemeanors, with a presumption of probation if an offender agrees to treatment.
• Allow those currently in prison or on probation for newly reclassified drug possession offenses to ask the court for a reduction in classification and sentence.
Both Klein and O’Brien said they will continue to work with state legislators on a reform measure.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said that lawmakers could take up the issue when the new General Assembly convenes in January.
"Issue 1 played a vital role in pushing forward the much-needed conversation that the criminal justice system must be reformed, because the staus quo isn’t working," Klein said Tuesday night. "People need treatment, not incarceration. Ron O’Brien and I have been working behind the scenes with Senate President Larry Obhof on draft legislation with the hope of moving on this issue as soon as possible."