• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

With Biden On Ohio Ballot, Strengthening Democracy Can’t Stop

With Biden On Ohio Ballot, Strengthening Democracy Can't Stop

Ohio Votes In Midterm Primary Election

Source: Jeff Swensen / Getty

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine rightly signed a measure ensuring President Joe Biden will appear on the ballot in Ohio for the November 2024 election. That there was ever a question as to a sitting president’s eligibility for the ballot is a story unto itself. That the measure was coupled with an unrelated bill, targeting foreign nationals and campaign contributions, is another story waiting to be told. But now that Gov. DeWine has resolved the ballot matter involving our sitting president, it is time to focus on broader democracy concerns in the state.

I said all along that excluding any eligible candidate from Ohio’s 2024 ballot due to a technicality would be undemocratic and contrary to the wishes of Ohio voters. No democracy should allow such maneuvering. But to strengthen democracy in our state, legislators and advocates need to address two key areas; voter purges and redistricting. These issues are prescient in Ohio, but Ohio is endemic to what is happening across the country.

Op-Ed: Voter Purges Amount To Voter Suppression

On multiple occasions, the state’s maps have been ruled unconstitutional. For years, Ohio voters have participated in elections with unfair maps. It’s not just that the maps don’t allow voters a chance to elect candidates of choice. But the maps mean that not even record turnout could afford voters the chance to elect preferred representatives.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than 9 million Ohioans (about 77% of the state’s population) live in districts where elections for state representatives are not in serious dispute. These districts are either uncontested, or they give one party a disproportionate advantage in the general election so that the district is uncompetitive, even if it’s formally contested. Elected leaders don’t have to appeal to voters in maps that are skewed to the elected officials’ favor.

Nationwide, voters have struggled to have fair redistricting processes that accounted for population growth and that gave Black voters a fair shot at influencing elections. For instance, the legislature in Louisiana has failed to develop a second majority-minority district even though Black population growth warrants the creation of the district. Advocates have had to go to the US Supreme Court on multiple occasions to get legislators in their state to comply. In Alabama, state officials attempted to thwart the will of the people and the courts and had to be forced to create a second majority-minority district. Just last month In South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a challenge to the state’s legislative maps, refusing to hear or cosign claims of racial gerrymandering when legislators moved Black voters to Rep. Jim Clyburn’s district.

For these reasons and more, advocates in Ohio don’t trust legislators to develop fair maps. We believe the map-drawing process should rest with ordinary voters. That’s why our Citizens Not Politicians ballot measure is so important. There is no other way to say it: if voters don’t draw the districts, Ohioans will not have equitable and fair maps.

But the other pressing issue for Ohioans – and voters in places such as Tennessee and Mississippi – is voter purges. Under the ruse of maintaining clean voting rolls, Ohio (and many states) are once again purging voters. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has ordered local election officials to purge inactive voters from the rolls. The question becomes what is considered inactive and will voters who have been removed from the rolls be notified in enough time to register and participate in November’s elections. The other question is whether the purges will disproportionately impact Black voters, and how the state might remedy this should it occur.

Certainly, electoral outcomes can be decided by a couple thousand votes, sometimes by hundreds of votes. But in Ohio, 27,000 voters were removed from the rolls prior to the November 2023 election. This is enough to impact the margin of victory and sway electoral outcomes. It is imperative that purges be done with care, that advocates receive a list of purged voters so we can encourage them to re-register, and that persons who have been purged be notified in enough time for them to remedy the problem. But there must also be accountability for election officials and oversight.

As you can see, having President Biden on the ballot in Ohio is immensely important and couldn’t have fair elections without him on the ballot. But let’s remember that our work is far from over. Democracy must be protected from all threats.

Pierette Talley is the founder and executive director of the Ohio Unity Coalition.


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