The State of Ohio is intent on making voting as inconvenient and difficult as legally possible. During the 2020 election cycle, Ohio led the nation in a voter-purge law that made it to the United States Supreme Court. Further, Secretary of State Frank LaRose refused to allow more than one ballot drop box for Cuyahoga County’s 1.2 million people during the COVID19 pandemic.
But there is hope. Two years ago, the now-deceased Congressman John Lewis introduced his “For the People Act” with the following words:
The vote is the most powerful non-violent instrument of transformation we have in our democracy…and at the foundation of our system, it must be strengthened and preserved…
According to the Act, it intended “To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes.”
Here in Cleveland, I intend to take Congressman Lewis’s lead and break down barriers to vote because our very democracy is at stake.
Voters in local elections face many barriers – and generally, voter turnout is dismal. Lack of information about voting laws, shrinking access to the polls, lack of transportation, conflicts with work hours, and cynicism, are compounded by a belief that “my vote doesn’t matter, so why bother?” This may also help explain why only 70% of eligible voters in the country are registered to vote.
Cleveland is no different and the state of Ohio has created even more barriers over the last several years. In the November 2020 national election, Cleveland saw a decrease in voting even though the voting increased overall in Cuyahoga County.
This must change.
I plan to take specific actions to address voter suppression on behalf of the voters of Cleveland.
Policy Efforts Underway
There are several key initiatives at the federal and state levels that can help increase local voter turnout and engagement. If enacted, they will support Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Ohio, as well.
First is the above-noted “For the People Act” – passed by the House of Representatives in 2020. It now sits with the Senate that has a very slim Democratic majority and will need an extra effort from the Biden Administration to get it moving. If enacted, it would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength.
Strong voting rights allow us to hold our elected officials accountable. Acts of voter suppression or gerrymandering make it more of a challenge for constituents to do so. Ohio has several statewide organizations fighting for equal access to the polls and fair district lines. This year is especially significant because, in 2021, the Ohio Redistricting Commission is charged with redrawing district lines with the 2020 data from the Census Bureau.
While voting rights are largely determined by state and federal legislation, there are many things that cities can do, as well.
Leading the City Forward
Cleveland is the largest city in Cuyahoga County – and we have a responsibility to provide leadership on improved voter protection and strengthened voting rights.
My administration will provide that leadership in the following ways:
- Establish a Voting Rights Task Force – bringing together leaders from local and statewide advocacy organizations and legal groups so that we can put forward strategies to improve civic engagement in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.
- Advocate with members of our delegation for the Ohio General Assembly to introduce and enact strong bipartisan legislation to provide more access to voting. This includes more ballot boxes in communities and same-day voter registration.
- Advocate to the Ohio Secretary of State to strengthen online voter registration and restrict voter purging based upon inactivity.
- Direct City departments that provide community education, health and social services, housing assistance, and other assistance to our residents to include voter registration information.
- Work with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and other school systems within the City to distribute voter registration information to eligible students to complete and submit to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
- Work with youth groups and encourage young leaders to server as poll workers.
- Work with local voter registration groups to help educate the public on ballot issues, voting rights, where and how they can register to vote.
- Support “Know Your Ballot” events organized by local synagogues, churches, and mosques.
- Work with the Greater Cleveland RTA to alleviate potential transportation barriers on election days.
- Join the National League of Cities’ “Cities Vote” initiative.
Cities are on the front line of civic engagement – and I will work to restore trust in a free, fair, and democratic voting system. In doing so, we will work for safe and easy voting, remove extraordinary requirements for voter access, and ensure transparency and accountability across the board.