************************** By Damon Krane January 6, 2023 Toledo Blade(Toledo, Ohio) **************************
In 2023, Ohio Democrats should make a meaningful New Year’s resolution to maximize the number of new young voters.
Voters under 30 preferred Democrats by a 28-point margin in the 2022 midterms. Youth turnout of 51-55% ushered in the last three Democratic presidents, compared to just 40-44% for Republicans.
Yet here in Ohio – a red state that used to swing blue – Democrats have not always welcomed young voters.
Consider my home of Athens, location of Ohio University, where students are 70% of the population and the median age is 21.5. Athens city is population center of Athens County, the only blue county in Southeast Ohio and only county to oppose Ohio’s 2004 anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. Democrats hold every city office. Republicans don’t even run.
Yet student turnout in city elections is extremely low. The most populous precincts often contribute one vote each in city primaries and barely more in general elections. Winning city candidates receive the support of about 10% of eligible voters, and the county has registered Ohio’s second lowest turnout.
This is because Athens Democrats have actually opposed youth turnout. I know from running against them – not as a Republican, but as an independent democratic socialist.
Running for mayor in 2019 I allied with Ellie Hamrick, another independent socialist running for city council. While registering students at OU’s dining halls we never encountered Democrats doing the same. We became the first candidates to text bank students about a city election. Democrats never followed suit. I encouraged students to hold a campus candidate forum before the voter registration deadline. By the time students wrangled the Dems, the deadline passed.
Running for city council in 2021 I was again the only candidate calling for a campus forum. One was scheduled in response to Democrats’ stated availability, but after a meeting with their county chair the Dems all announced they would not attend – opting instead for a forum after the registration deadline, from which independents were excluded.
Meanwhile, Democratic Mayor Steve Patterson (not even up for re-election) didn’t just snub Democratic-leaning students, he tried to secretly boost Republican turnout against progressive independents, even though it would also harm Democratic Congressional candidate Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), whom Patterson had endorsed in the special election for Ohio’s 15th District that coincided with the city election.
Republicans recorded Patterson attempting to woo them with right-wing talking points; praising Larry Householder protégé, state representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville); and joining Republicans in laughing off Iris Virjee – a young woman candidate of color – as merely a “girl” and “bartender” whose name Patterson said he couldn’t remember. They leaked everything, and the story was front page news the day Patterson hosted Russo’s visit to Athens.
All this happened under then-county party chair John Haseley – former chief of staff to Ted Strickland, Ohio’s last Democratic governor and six-term Congressman. So I doubt Ohio Dems’ antipathy toward young, would-be voters is unique to Athens.
I don’t air this dirty laundry to tear down the Ohio Democratic Party. I oppose Democrats where Republicans are not competitive, but I support Democrats where Republicans are competitive. I want Ohio to swing blue again.
If Ohio Democrats also want this, they should turn heavily Democratic young people into more frequent voters by not only mobilizing them in presidential and Congressional elections but in local elections, too. The more young people vote, the more they’ll vote in the highest stakes elections. If students become frequent voters at school, they’ll take the habit many more places after graduation.
Therefore I challenge Ohio Democrats to make a New Year’s resolution. Launch new youth mobilization efforts in 2023 – including major local candidate forums on college campuses.
Turn over a new leaf, and you might just flip Ohio.
Damon Krane is an Appalachian community organizer, independent journalist and occasional political candidate. A collection of his writing and media coverage of his work can be found at www.damonkrane.com