What Ohioans have on their voter wish list


Your Voice Ohio (Photo: Cameron Peters, Kent State University)

Just months before Election Day, Ohio voters of all stripes are both worried and hopeful.

They’re concerned about economic security for themselves and fellow Americans. They aren’t sure how the election will go down during a pandemic. They want honest leaders to come up with more fixes to serious problems. They’re not sure who to trust in the media and government.

At the same time, they are hopeful that nationwide protests are opening eyes to systemic racism, the need for reform and the next generation of leadership. The fact that the protests are drawing Black and white, young and old is seen as a sign of unity during a divisive time in the country. And they’re lifted by seeing small acts of kindness during the pandemic – neighbors helping strangers.

Your Voice Ohio, a collaborative journalism project involving nearly 50 news outlets, held multiple two-hour, online conversations in early July with voters across the state to hear about their concerns as the presidential election draws closer, and how news media outlets can better provide coverage.

Participants, some of whom did not want their names used as they shared personal stories, included single mothers, young dads, workers and retirees, gay and straight, Black and white, men and women, old and young.

The conversations revealed that within Ohio’s diversity, there is plenty of common ground, even during times of intense partisanship and division in our nation.

Strong current of mistrust

Ohioans want more from their government and political leaders. They’d like to see fewer personal attacks and more honesty.

“My big issue is honesty. If you can’t believe what’s coming out of their mouths, it doesn’t matter,” said a woman from Licking County, east of Columbus. Alah Jackson of Columbus agreed, citing fairness and honesty as high priorities for her.

They also want leaders who will unite the country. Nick Schroeder, a retired accounting professor in Bowling Green, said, “I’m really interested in things about bringing us together. How much people and candidates are actually going to try to bring us together, rather than the ‘here’s my viewpoint, which is much better than your viewpoint.’”

When asked how leaders might bridge the political divides seen in the United States today, Jonathan Chu of suburban Columbus said, “I don’t think either side is interested in bridging divides. They want to make it a bigger divide and grab a bigger piece.”

There is a strong current of mistrust of the government.

“I don’t think mail-in voting is a good idea because I don’t trust people, especially a lot of people in the government right now,” said Brhiannon Riddle, a 25-year-old single mother who lives in a small town north of Dayton.

A Cincinnati area voter said faith and trust in the voting system is paramount, and he doesn’t appreciate rhetoric that undermines that.

Jo’el Jones, a Dayton woman who ran for state representative in the Democratic primary, said closing the polls to in-person primary voting at the last minute and shifting to extended absentee voting during the pandemic was chaotic and caused a lot of people to miss the chance to vote. She’s worried that Ohio won’t be ready for November, especially if the pandemic continues.

“I don’t know. It’s a damn mess,” she said.

Roger Davis of Cambridge, a long-time elections worker, said he is worried that county boards of elections will be swamped with a massive upswing in requests for absentee ballots this fall and they’ll have difficulty finding poll workers. “It concerns me for sure.”

Skeptical of media

Ohioans also want more from journalists. They are thirsty for more fact-checking and issues stories, less of what they see as political bias, the inclusion of diverse voices in stories, more accurate headlines and fewer typos and spelling mistakes.

Reghan Buie of Youngstown, a first-time voter, said she hunted for hours for local news stories about candidates on her primary ballot but found very little. “There should be more information about local races because they matter.”

Others went further and said they don’t care if their local outlets cover the presidential election, because they can get that coverage from national outlets. Instead, they said, the focus should be on state and local stories and issues.

And, they said, many Ohioans are skeptical of media.

“I’m tired of media bias. I want to hear all the facts. I think that you can be dishonest by communicating the facts but not all of them, and also by taking things out of context. Where is Walter Cronkite when you need him? He used to just give us the news and let us make up our own minds,” said one Toledo area retiree.

Roger Davis, a Cambridge man who works for a non-profit, said he consumes stories from multiple media outlets but would like to hear more voices in those news stories from people who hold different political views.

“Sometimes, it’s good to be challenged in your ideas,” he said. “I don’t necessarily always like to hear what I already think I know. Sometimes, I like to see the other point of view, even if I disagree with it. I like to know other people are being heard.”

Top priorities

Although they all said the pandemic is top of mind, participants named the economy, health care, environment, education and equality as their top issues in the 2020 election season.

Michelle Anderson of Wooster said the temptation to pick one top issue ignores the fact that so many issues are interconnected.

“All of these things go together and can benefit us all,” she said. “Health care needs are related to job needs, and jobs and minimum wage are related education opportunities, and where we can live, to better schools. We make it a lot of little things and need to look at all those things as a whole.”

Fred Camden, of Springfield, maintains that President Trump has brought good-paying jobs to the country. Camden retired after 40 years as a letter carrier – a job that was once a ticket to the middle class. “A good job is out there if you really want one,” he said.

Riddle, though, said it’s not that easy. She got into a government-subsidized, job-training program to help her land a customer-service job that pays $13 an hour.

“Still, at 40 hours a week, $13 an hour, I am at the point where I’m stuck in the middle. Welfare isn’t going to help me anymore because I make just enough that I’m over it (the eligibility threshold), but I also can’t afford to live on the rest,” said Riddle, a single mother. She still works part-time at her old job at a hotel making $9 an hour.

Carol Lynn, a mother of two in Dayton, said her mom worked at General Motors and was able to support her family, but those automaker jobs are long gone. She said the government needs to provide job training programs to boost workers into higher-paying positions.

One Hamilton County man, the son of immigrants, said his parents started a business and sacrificed for their children to have opportunities.

“Sometimes, I think the government needs to support society and make sure those opportunities are available. Other times, I think the government needs to get out of the way and let people be their best self as well,” he said.

Pandemic and protests

The coronavirus pulled back the curtain on disparities in health care, which is an on-going issue for voters.

It’s something Adrienne Zurub of Cleveland has seen for a long time as a registered nurse. Zurub said that for many Black people, it’s just six degrees of separation to knowing someone who died of COVID-19.

“That really hits home, and again, it exposes the disparity in health care that we’ve experienced in health care since we touched these shores,” said Zurub, who is retired. “… Everyone thinks that we have the greatest health care system in the world. We don’t. When you’re telling nurses and front-line workers to put on a bandana and a scarf and a garbage bag and go out and essentially sacrifice yourself – that should say something.”

And the recent protests over police brutality have elevated the issues of racial injustice for many Ohioans.

Jo’el Jones said oppressive public policies have long been her top priority. She worries about raising two Black sons and what might happen to them when they get their driver’s licenses or go out for a run.

Mykell Rose, a gay, biracial man from Hamilton County, said equality issues have become a top priority for him.

And Carol Lynn of Dayton, a mother of a Black son, said the video of George Floyd’s killing under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer brought the issue of racial justice to the forefront for her.

It’s not just Black Ohioans who care about Black Lives Matters.

“I’ve learned a lot the past few months and I have educated myself,” said Stacy Dodson, a white woman in Wheelersburg. “I’ve educated my children. I think there needs to be more formal education with our history and not so much the white-washed history I had as a child. My eyes were opened to what was going on in the world and my heart was broken.”

Rick Phelps, a retired EMT and law-enforcement officer who lives in Southeast Ohio, said he is worried about the outcome of the November election.

“I never would have dreamed four or five months ago, we’d be talking about defunding the police,” he said. “It is unfathomable to me. I just cannot believe where one party is and the other party is. We’re supposed to be working together here. We aren’t African Americans, we’re not Asian Americans. We are Americans, first and foremost.”

Despite the challenges of the protests and pandemic, both are a source of hope for Ohioans.

Carol Lynn of Dayton said she was encouraged to see Blacks, whites, young, old all protesting against racism and injustice. “It’s a united front fighting against these issues and that the young people are taking the lead,” she said.

Jo’el Jones of Dayton is hopeful the protests will bring real reform. “The ugliness of racism and fear is exposed, and because it is exposed there is outright anger. And out of all of this, leaders will arise. The way we look, talk and even politic will be very different. I think out of all of this, I’ll get that courageous leader that I pray to come soon.”

Michelle Anderson of Wooster said she likes that Ohioans – and business owners – are starting to stand up against displaying the Confederate flag. She sees it as a recognition of the pain that the flag causes. “That gives me hope.”

Others say they’re lifted by seeing acts of kindness – people delivering meals, crafters making homemade masks, donors contributing to food banks – during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has brought out the best in people in a lot of ways. I think we’ve all seen that with people helping neighbors,” said one Toledo area woman.

And Reghan Buie said she believes the next generation is ready to step up and lead. “We are coming for the Senate, we are coming for the House. We’re coming for everything. We want to improve this nation.”

While there is tremendous division in America, Ohioans recognize the value in hearing from those who hold different opinions.

Josh Culling said he moved back to his hometown of Toledo in part because of its diversity. He celebrates that inside a Toledo bar he can find hourly workers, professionals, Muslims, Christians, Republicans, Democrats sitting together. He described it as a chance to venture “outside my little bubble.”

Laura Bischoff is the statehouse reporter for the Dayton Daily News.

ABOUT THE PROJECT: Your Voice Ohio is the largest sustained, statewide media collaborative in the nation. Launched nearly five years ago, more than 60 news outlets have participated in community-focused coverage of elections, addiction, racial equity, the economy and housing. Primary funders of Your Voice Ohio are The Democracy Fund, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Practices, a non-partisan, non-profit engagement research organization, is a partner in the community conversations.

What you need to know to vote this year

How to register to vote

You can register online at https://olvr.ohiosos.gov/. You can also download an application, print it, and mail it to your county board of elections.

When to register to vote

To vote in the Nov. 3 election, your application must be received by mail, or delivered to the board of elections office, or online no later than Monday, Oct. 5. Boards of elections are open Oct. 5 until 9 p.m.

Who can register to vote

U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old on or before the next general election, and a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days before the election.

Should I check my voter registration?

Yes. You can do so here.

Documents needed to register online

Ohio driver’s license or state ID with number; name; date of birth; address; last four digits of your Social Security number.

How to request an absentee ballot

If you choose not to vote at a public polling location on election day, you can request a ballot in advance – called absentee voting. The Ohio Secretary of State will mail applications to every registered voter, which can be completed and returned, or voters can print the form from the Secretary of State website. Additionally, some Ohio newspapers have printed the form in the daily paper so voters can cut it out, complete it and mail it in.

When to request an absentee ballot

You can request an absentee ballot 90 days before an election, which this year is Aug. 5. The window to request is open until THREE days before the election but in practicality that deadline leaves little time for the postal service to get the ballot to you and for you to return it.

When and how to return an absentee ballot

Your completed ballot must be postmarked – at the latest — the day before the election. Placing the ballot in a mailbox does not guarantee that it will be post marked. Deliver it personally to a post office and request that it be marked. It’s your responsibility to make sure it has enough postage. Alternatively, you can drop it off in person at your county board of elections during business hours and before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. You don’t have to wait until Election Day to deliver.

Can I track my absentee ballot?

Yes. Check out the voter toolkit here.

How, where and when to vote early in-person

Early in-person voting centers, set up by the county board of elections, open Oct. 6, or 28 days before Election Day. You’ll need identification, such as a driver’s license, bank statement, utility bill, pay stub, military or state ID to vote. And depending on public health orders, you may need a face mask.

How to be a poll worker

Ohio relies on 35,000 registered voters to work the polls on Election Day. Because many poll workers are of retirement age, they face increased health risks due to Covid 19. There is high interest in expanding the hiring pool to include younger people. Poll workers receive training. Pay varies by county. You can sign up here.

Read or Share this story: https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2020/08/02/election-2020-ohio-voting-presidential-election/5555407002/

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