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Ohio Republicans Are Trying to Take Power From Voters. We Won’t Let Them.

We must be as dogged about protecting our democracy as authoritarian forces are about decimating it.

People seen casting their votes at a polling booth in Columbus, Ohio, on November 8, 2022.

On June 26, the United States Supreme Court sent a redistricting challenge to Louisiana’s congressional maps back to a lower court, which had ruled the maps likely dilute the Black communities’ voting power. The decision paves the way for a second minority-majority district in Louisiana, something for which plaintiffs have advocated for months.

The decision — hailed by voting rights advocates in and outside of Louisiana — is part of a handful of decisions this summer that protect the voting franchise. Earlier this month, the court rejected redistricting lines in Alabama that advocates say amounted to racial gerrymandering. On June 27, the Supreme Court rejected the so-called “Independent State Legislature Theory” and upheld the checks and balances central to safeguarding democratic institutions in the U.S. Although many were poised for negative outcomes, the rulings strengthened our nation’s democracy.

We can extrapolate at least three lessons from these decisions. First, when organizers dare to consistently defend democracy, they position themselves to win. Regardless of how bleak things look, we can never resign ourselves to the status quo. If we continue to organize, we can make a difference for ourselves and future generations.

Next, these cases prove that the courts still play an important role in protecting our freedom to vote. We must continue to advocate for a judicial process that has proven to be the last line of defense for marginalized communities. From the civil rights movement to current times, communities of color have relied on the court system to defend and expand basic rights.

Finally, voters must use every tool at their disposal to protect democracy. From the courts to ballot initiatives to year-round organizing, we must be as dogged about protecting our democracy as authoritarian forces are about decimating it. That’s critical, especially in a place like Ohio that has been trending red for a while.

In Ohio, Republicans control all three branches of government. They can and often do draw district lines in a way that solidifies their hold on power. That makes it harder for communities of color to elect candidates that represent them. Until this obstacle is addressed, it may not matter how many people turn out and vote — some communities will struggle to elect candidates of their choice. It’s imperative that we not give up in the face of resistance but continue to organize and strategize, and refuse to believe all hope is lost.

Bills without Republican support do not pass in the Ohio legislature. Ohio is deeply partisan, meaning that issues aren’t considered on their merits but rather by the political party advancing the issue. One way to overcome that barrier has been ballot initiatives.

For about 100 years, Ohioans have used ballot measures to put issues that matter to their communities directly on the ballot. But on May 10, Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives advanced a controversial proposal that will allow a small minority of voters (40 percent) to dictate what the majority of Ohioans want. Their proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 2, will go before voters as “Issue 1” in an August special election. The special election will happen even though Republicans previously sought to end costly, confusing, and difficult-to-administer August special elections in the state.

If Ohio’s Issue 1 passes in August, not only will Ohio Republicans have a stranglehold on all branches of our state government, they will also control the constitutional amendment process. That’s not good for Ohioans, and it’s disastrous for our democracy.

Now that the legislature is seeking to make it harder to get issues on the ballot, the stakes are even higher. But higher doesn’t mean insurmountable. That’s why my organization, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, is working alongside the Ohio Unity Coalition, the Ohio NAACP, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute to organize our communities, turn them out to vote and encourage those who favor a fair and inclusive democracy to stand with us. We also continue to challenge Ohio’s illegal and unconstitutional redistricting maps.

Grassroots leaders in Ohio are fighting every day to protect the integrity of our democracy in Ohio. We will not tolerate a narrow vision of the U.S. that embraces just one community or one perspective. All must be welcome here. In a democracy, all people should have an equal chance of electing candidates of choice, advocating for policies that benefit the whole rather than a select few and making the state constitution responsive to the people.

We know that our fight is bigger than a single issue: voting rights, reproductive rights and campaigns to raise the minimum wage or ensure paid sick and family leave will all be sidelined if some voters are locked out of our democracy. Despite the current high court’s makeup, we must continue to organize, understanding that we can only lose when we refuse to fight.

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