Why Racial Politics and Voting in Ohio Impact Us All

By Guest Columnist Oct 03, 2008

By Chris Crews Only a few months ago, I was tromping through the lush forests of Central Ohio passing Amish horse and buggies and eating venison while working as an environmental education teacher with Ohio middle schoolers. But nowadays I find myself tromping through the NY subway and the closest thing to a deer around here is the Wall St. bull. Back in Ohio, I had written about and organized around issues of voter fraud all in an effort to connect what we saw happen in 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio into a bigger picture. Why did this happen, who was involved, and what were the impacts on politics? Those questions led me down a strange, and at times, scary path littered with cover-ups, backroom political dealings, bizarre racial politics and ultimately governmental abuse and injustice. For example, how should one understand a prominent Black Republican Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, actively working to disenfranchise and exclude largely poor, largely Black communities from voting in urban precincts of Ohio? Or what about a comparison of Columbus voting areas like Upper Arlington where a majority of affluent white Republicans had no problems or waits to access working voting machines and predominantly Democratic, working class Black areas like Franklinton that had long lines and broken machines? These and similar voting problem stories from Ohio point to a systemic crisis that continues today. So why are we still talking about voting and race in Ohio? The reason is two-fold. First, there are a number of people who believe the outcome of the 2004 election was directly linked to election manipulation for political purposes. Secondly, there was a clear and troubling pattern of voter disenfranchisement that mirrors racial and economic divides in the state. The major counties where voting problems occurred (Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomery, Lucas, Cuyahoga and Summit) were all urban areas with large communities of color. In other words, when voting problems occurred, they were almost always linked to the voter’s race. While working with thousands of Ohio middle school students last year, many of whom were urban youth of color, I kept thinking to myself that these are the future voters who will either have a vote or will continue to be disenfranchised and marginalized. If we care about issues of fairness and equality, then it is our responsibility to fix the election process now-to challenge the structural inequalities now-so when those young people turn eighteen they too will have a real voice in the electoral process. As history has shown time and again, as Ohio goes, so does the nation. And with so much in the balance, the stakes could not be higher. Chris Crews is the Applied Research Center Racial Justice Communications Intern