VOICES: Ohio locked in a battle to make voting equality the regular work of government

When Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal,” he argued natural rights were rendered by “nature’s God,” that men were born with them. Jefferson believed “that we are and have always been the source of our own authority; that we govern ourselves not through acts of faith but through acts of understanding; and that if we should find ourselves beholden to some other imaginary authority, this can only mean that we have only constructed the conditions of our own servitude.”

For almost 250 years, the United states has struggled to advance Jefferson’s paean to equality. The right to vote is the key to democracy and equality. It began with white men of property and expanded to white men who were citizens. The Civil War abolished the curse of slavery and expanded citizenship to Black men and gave them the right to vote by constitutional amendment. Ohio representative John Bingham struck a blow for democracy and equality when he drafted much of the 14th Amendment and supported the 15th. But women were excluded, and the struggle for universal suffrage went on until the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Much sweat and blood went into these victories, bringing America closer to the ideal that all persons are created equal.

Yet even after laws were passed, making the assertion of equality obtainable, resistance to equal rights continued. Segregation was a barrier to voting and equal rights and required another fight to make the promise of equality reality. It took a Civil Rights Revolution and more blood to bring America back on track toward a more equal society, and voting rights were the key.

In Ohio, we are locked in a battle to make voting equality the regular work of government. We have a minority government because we permit qualified voters to cast their ballots in a rigged system based on gerrymandering, and it chooses winners and losers — not the voters. Gerrymandering is the idea that not all votes should be counted. Gerrymandering ensures one-party rule. As each day brings us closer to November, we should look at what this system has done for Ohio.

Most Ohioans live in gerrymandered districts. This means in over half of the legislature’s districts filing for election is tantamount to winning the election. Fewer than 450,000 of Ohio’s 2.3 million registered voters choose our legislature. This ensures a Republican legislature that protects itself, not citizens. One abuse of power by the Republican legislature banned August elections until an effort was mounted to keep Ohioans from amending the state constitution by petition and vote. The Republican government scheduled an August 2023 election, costing taxpayers $7 million dollars. This effort was done because an initiative to amend the state constitution to protect reproductive rights for women was scheduled for the November ballot. Gerrymandering could not stop the effort to protect abortion rights when the people were given a choice. The Republican effort to end ballot initiatives failed. Democracy worked.

The Republicans have simply ignored legal mandates to redistrict when their efforts were declared unconstitutional five times by a bipartisan majority on the Ohio Supreme Court.

The petition for redistricting would create a 15-member Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission made up Democrats, Republicans, and Independent citizens. It would ban current and former politicians, political party officials and lobbyists from sitting on the commission and require fair and impartial districts.

Strike a blow for voter equality. Find a redistricting petition and sign it before July 3.

David Madden is a retired trial attorney. He was an Infantry platoon leader and LTC in the JAG Corps.

Read more here.