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While You’re Writing That Protest Sign, Don’t Forget to Vote

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega While You’re Writing That Protest Sign, Don’t Forget to VoteImage via flickr.
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The political landscape is a hostile scene, full of land mines that hide beneath words like “immigration” and “police brutality.” Set that into a context where uncomfortable facts are fake, the press is the opposition party, and propaganda is news, and you’ve got a situation that seems unapproachable — hopeless.

That feeling seemed to surge just after the November election, when people were most polarized, tension was thick, and chanting with signs was popular. People had to do something. So they marched.

Women marched, scientists marched, immigrants marched. There was Not My President’s Day, A Day Without A Woman, and A Day Without Immigrants.

Still, protesters assemble regularly against Trump rallies, executive orders and police acquittals. Gathering in groups of large numbers with pithy, poignant verses etched on large signs is something you can pretty much count on people to do. But, expect them to show up at the polls on voting day? Hard pass.

Over the last five years, outside of the presidential primary and general elections, more than 60 percent of eligible voters stayed home on election day — and that stat is from one of the better years.

For the local primary on May 2, when it was time to decide which Columbus City Council and School Board candidates would continue on to the general election, 93 percent of eligible voters had other plans. In April, activists called for the jobs of Columbus police officer Zachary Rosen and Police Chief Kim Jacobs for Rosen’s assault on a restrained suspect. In June, others rallied outside of Senator Rob Portman’s office to urge him to vote “No” on the Republicans’ Affordable Care Act replacement. What happened on May 2?

So, where’s the disconnect?

“We ask that same question an awful lot,” said Carrie Davis, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. The nonpartisan, tri-level organization provides voter information, holds forums on issues and candidates, and publishes educational pieces on national, state and local issues.

“We have all these new people who are joining organizations like ours, who are donating, who are volunteering, who are getting engaged,” Davis continued. “How do we make sure they vote? How do we make sure they’re registered and showing up and having that voice?”

Making it easier and simpler to register and vote would be a good start. Since 2004, at least one rule or requirement has changed within the voting process each year.

Government officials are still debating the technicalities of early voting: should it be the same statewide, or should the counties decide? Golden Week, that special time during early voting when people could register and vote on the same day, was taken away in 2014. And last year, Secretary of State Jon Husted purged the registrations of several hundred thousand infrequent voters, a highly contested move that’s gone all the way to the Supreme Court.

(In 2014, when Husted was running against Sen. Nina Turner for Secretary of State, 37 percent of Franklin County’s eligible voters cast their ballots.)

Variable rules and regulations around the right to vote cause confusion and keep people home. It’s not worth the trouble. At this point, some voters feel that they should be able to open an app and cast their ballot from the toilet.

Still, even when getting past the obstacles to casting a vote, many abstain on purpose, based on the belief that it won’t make a difference. But, on the local level, a few thousand votes make all the difference. Local advocacy groups point out that there’s no other place where a single voice is heard louder.

“One of the things that we try to drive home is that the people that impact you the most are the ones that you’re voting for in a local election,” said Barbara Hykes, President of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus, “because your congressperson or president does not make the decision on zoning in your neighborhood. The Supreme Court is so far removed from a decision as to whether to grant bail for a person who’s been accused of a crime.”

But, what if a vote literally doesn’t count? Fair Districts = Fair Elections, a coalition of organizations statewide — including the League of Women Voters — is combatting that issue right now, with their ballot initiative to end the gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional districts.

The coalition accuses Republicans of creating a 12-to-4 Republican advantage and a state legislative plan that ensures their control of the legislature, even if there’s a strong Democratic year.

Fair Districts = Fair Elections’ proposal would create a map that features “compactness, competitiveness, representational fairness (not favoring one political party over another and mapmaking that reflect the partisan makeup of Ohio as a whole), and respect for county and municipal boundaries.”

A similar initiative eliminating gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts received overwhelming voter support in 2015. Roughly 2,700 volunteers are working statewide to collect enough petition signatures for the current initiative to get on the ballot.

Even closer to home, Everyday People for Positive Change is working to put more people on Columbus City Council and add district representation. The proposal is multifaceted, tackling excessive campaign donations and the mid-term appointment process as well.

The group argues that by electing 10 council members to represent 10 districts, as well as three more to represent the city at-large, people would have a bigger say in the changes that happen in their communities. That petition is also circulating, already halfway to the number of signatures it needs to get on the May ballot.

Ballot initiatives are the people’s chance to make their own rules, but the last time a similar charter amendment came to the polls, less than 10 percent of eligible voters showed up, and the measure failed.

Political involvement is higher than it’s ever been. People are rally-ready, and rallies are necessary. They serve their own purpose, raising awareness around issues, letting legislators know — in real time — how their constituents feel. And they’re cathartic. But, what better way to show a legislator that they messed up than by voting them out? And what better way to shape your own quality of life by supporting and electing issues and candidates you believe in?

The deadline to register to vote is October 9, and Election Day is November 7.

CLICK HERE to visit olvr.sos.state.oh.us and register to vote.

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