Ohio to Vote on Blocking Federal Health Care Mandate

In Columbus, Ohio this week, several college-aged volunteers were manning a bank of phones, striving to reach a goal of a million calls in support of Ballot Issue 3 -- an amendment to the state’s Constitution that amounts to a repudiation of President Obama’s health care overhaul.

While at least four states have attempted to block the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act that requires everyone to purchase health care -- and 28 state attorneys general have joined in a Supreme Court challenge to the law -- Ohio’s action is different because it is driven entirely by citizens.

In the months since the health care bill became law, opponents in Ohio have been gathering enough signatures on a petition to reach the required threshold of 384,000 certified signatures to place Issue 3 on the November 8 ballot.

The constitutional amendment reads in part, that no government, neither federal, nor state nor local “shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system."

“First, at the state level, it guarantees that Ohio can never be a state like Massachusetts or Vermont with a big state run healthcare system with a forced insurance mandate,“ said Jeff Longstreth, the campaign manager for Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom.

He is confident that conservative Ohioans, for whom the Affordable Care Act is a hot button issue, will turn out in significant number in this off-year election. All that is now necessary for the amendment to become a part of the state constitution is a simple majority vote on November 8.

Should it pass, some political analysts believe it will carry little weight beyond the symbolic.

“If the (U.S.) Supreme Court rules in favor of the president's healthcare bill, and says yes, the mandate is constitutional, then there's really no state law can supersede it right? The supremacy clause of the constitution is going to mean that federal law trumps state law,” said Mack Mariani, a political scientist at Xavier University.

Democratic opponents agree with that assessment but also object to the amendment’s wording.

“It is so sloppily written, so ambiguously written, that it would threaten and even invalidate literally dozens of already existing Ohio laws and regulations that we use to keep our population healthy and safe,” said Dale Butland , communications director at Innovation Ohio, a group opposed to the amendment.

Butland says the clause in question bans any new health care mandates passed after March 2010. He believes it would effectively invalidate many medical regulations rules made before that date.

Supporters admit that a victory for “Issue 3” would be mostly symbolic – but powerfully so. “Sometimes symbols matter,” said Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich. “The problem with Obamacare is you stick all these people on, and you have no way to pay for it.”

Adding to the symbolism of the vote – Ohio is again a volatile swing state and key to the re-election of the Obama. In addition, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is also up for re-election next year, voted for the Affordable Care Act and is ranked among the Senate’s most liberal members.

Some analysts believe that his Senate seat is ripe for a Republican takeover.

“We are effectively issuing a referendum on them and their policies,” said Chris Littleton of Ohio Liberty Council, a grass roots organization formed by Tea Party activists.

“And while this doesn't directly affect of course their election, I think there's a strong statement that's going to be made by Ohioans that we don't like this kind of infringement on our personal rights,” he said.

Supporters of Ballot Issue 3 enjoy a slim majority of support with 48 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed, according to a Quinnipiac Poll in July. But the poll breaks down strictly along party lines, with Republicans supporting it by a margin of 78 percent to 17 percent, and Democrats opposed to it by margin of 71 percent to 20 percent. Independents, who are crucial to the “swing” status of Ohio, are almost evenly split, 49 percent to 44 percent.