Southwest Ohioans unite in concern for country’s future

Top left: Photo courtesy Office of Governor Mike DeWine. Bottom left: KentWired photo by Michael Indriolo. Center: KentWired photo by Michael Indriolo. Upper right, background: Photo courtesy of the CDC. Upper right, foreground: KentWired photo by Kristen Jones. Bottom, center: Columbus Dispatch photo by Adam Cairns.

The 39-year-old Trotwood woman’s absentee ballot arrived a couple of days earlier, but she still hadn’t filled it out.

“It’s voting time and I still don’t know where either side stands on the issues…all I’ve heard is a lot of bickering,” she told a group of fellow Southwest Ohioans during a Your Voice Ohio (YVO) Zoom meeting Oct. 7.

It was the first time the woman talked to anyone this year about the presidential election because she feared being shamed or attacked again.

That’s what happened after people found out she voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama before that. Her name is being withheld to avoid any more blowback.

This year, the civic duty to help choose the next U.S. president weighs heavy.

“If you don’t pick the right person,” the woman said, “it could like, literally, be a civil war that goes on in our country.”

Ohioans were uneasy a month away from Election Day.

The 2020 presidential election feels different, they said, with more at stake.

They’re not only worried about the deep and bitter divisions separating Americans, they’re fearful about where the country is heading even as the deadly pandemic — which has already killed more than 5,075 Ohioans — rages on.

United in concern

The Trotwood woman was the only person in the Southwest Ohio YVO group to say she was undecided. The others were not asked and did not say who they supported. But based on what they said about the candidates and the issues, they appeared to break this way: One Trump voter, two Joe Biden voters, and a Libertarian supporting that party’s candidate, Jo Jorgensen.

But all expressed some level of concern.

“I’m scared and worried about our country and the young children growing up,” said James Porter, an 82-year-old retired school teacher who lives in the GOP stronghold of Warren County.

He said about eight of every 10 signs on his street are for Trump and he thinks his county will likely vote for Trump again.

“But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy with Trump,” he said. “I think we’re disgusted with both sides.”

Michelle MacCutcheon, a former membership coordinator for Ohio’s Libertarian party, said the anxiety this election cycle began during the last, particularly after Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 but lost the election.

Many Clinton voters felt slighted. And instead of reaching out to the 46% of eligible voters who stayed home in 2016, people on both the left and right shamed anyone who didn’t think like them, she said, expressing empathy for the Trotwood woman, who considers herself an independent.

“I feel for her so much on that,” said MacCutcheon, who said she has long been shamed for voting third party.

On top of that, there’s the pandemic. It’s prompted people across the country to tighten their circles with people of “like thought and like mind” and that gave people a bolder voice, MacCutcheon said.

“And also we’re angry, we’re frickin’ angry at the fact that COVID and our government or however you want to look at it, took these things away from us,” she said.

Concerns for voting

Whether it was losing time with someone in a nursing home, or, like MacCutcheon, missing the birth of a grandchild, those are moments gone forever.

There also were worries about the election process itself, particularly during the pandemic — when so many Ohioans are voting early or voting absentee — and amid such deep political division. Some worried about intimidation, or even violence at the polls. They also worried about how long it would take to determine who won — Trump or Biden.

David Funck, who lives in suburban Cincinnati, said other countries have long offered many options to help citizens vote. 

That hasn’t happened in the U.S. and, amid the pandemic, there are new obstacles that undermine people’s confidence in the voting system or make voting more difficult or even possibly unsafe.

He said it’s “unconscionable” that some politicians are demeaning the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to deliver ballots and elections in general.

At the same time, he pointed out the fight over allowing only a single ballot drop box in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, no matter if thousands of voters or more than a million live in the county.

“The question becomes why are we not able to provide safe voting in every manner to everyone at this point,” Funck said.

Funck, who put much of the blame for the divide in the country on Trump and the GOP, said he was surprised there were any undecided voters left so close to such a monumental election.

Unmet needs

The Trotwood woman tried to explain, both her own situation and that of many people she knows.

“When you look at people like me, where they may live in poverty, always remember Maslow’s pyramid,” she said.

The pyramid represents a psychologist theory of a hierarchy of needs. If the two foundation layers are not fulfilled — food, water, rest, safety and security — nothing else can be accomplished.

“Unless your basic needs are met, things like politics do not play into your mindset. They just don’t,” the woman said.

The woman said she tried to watch the debate but was turned off by the fighting and never did learn what Trump or Biden planned to do if elected.

“If I discuss it with African Americans, I’m attacked, and then if I discuss it with Republicans, they don’t understand where I’m coming from as an independent,” said the woman, who is Black.

“It’s almost like I can’t feel the way I want to about the election,” she said. “It’s almost like I’m silent.”

Amanda Garrett is a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal and can be emailed at [email protected].

Want to volunteer for a future dialogue and receive $125 for two hours? Register at the Your Voice Ohio Election 2020 website.

About this project

This is one in a series of stories on issues Ohioans say are most important in this election year. More than 50 news outlets are collaborating in the project under the umbrella of Your Voice Ohio, the nation’s largest sustained, statewide news media collaborative. In five years, Your Voice Ohio has brought more than 100 journalists together with more than 1,300 Ohioans for discussions on addiction, the economy and elections. Your Voice Ohio is managed and coordinated by the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic engagement organization. The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes designs and facilitates the dialogues and digital forums. Retired Akron Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger directs the media work and can be reached at [email protected].

Five Ohios

For the Your Voice Ohio 2020 Election listening project, the state’s 88 counties were divided into five regions identified by John Green, emeritus director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, as having political and demographic similarities.

How participants were selected

Six people were recruited to participate with three journalists in each regional dialogue designed and facilitated by Kyle Bozentko and Sarah Atwood from the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a St. Paul-based non-partisan, non-profit research organization.

There was an attempt to make each dialogue demographically representative, though that was problematic in some regions, particularly in the Southeast where there were broadband challenges. Overall, the dialogues were representative of Ohio, based on Census data obtained by former Akron Beacon Journal data reporter David Knox.

A pool of about 1,000 volunteers was created through invitations published by Ohio news outlets and from advertisements on social media. To encourage a diverse group of volunteers, $125 was offered to those who answered basic demographic questions, participated in a test call, and then completed the two-hour online dialogue.

For the conversations, participants were granted anonymity with the understanding that what they said could be used in news stories without their names. They were asked afterward if they were willing to be quoted by name and participate in a follow-up conversation with a reporter. Most agreed.

Participating journalists were recruited from the more than 50 Your Voice Ohio news outlets. One reporter attended all five sessions and wrote the central narrative, a regional reporter in each helped identify themes and nuances. A third is guiding the Your Voice Ohio journalism and has attended all sessions since 2016.

Finding help with your ballot

There are organizations that attempt to provide fair representations of candidates and issues so that you can cast an informed ballot. 

Below are some of those resources:

  • Ballotpedia is a national organization that compiles information about federal and state candidates and some local races and issues The Ohio page is the place to begin.
  • Public radio stations in Ohio, led by WKSU FM 89.7, and with the help of Eye on Ohio and Your Voice Ohio, attempted to ask federal and state legislative candidates questions on your behalf. The questions were formulated after asking Ohioans in a statewide poll to name their most important concerns, followed by dialogues to gain better understanding of those issues. Unfortunately, candidates have been slow to respond. Those who have answered the questions can be found at this site, and new answers are added as they arrive. Disappointed that your candidate isn’t represented? Tell them that you’d like answers to questions that come from the more than 50 Your Voice Ohio news outlets that are attempting to represent your concerns.
  • As a part of its Civics Essential series, Issue Media Group news outlets in Ohio provided this primer on voting for judges. In the story are links to organizations offering appraisals of candidates for state and local judges. Outlets in the Issue Media Group are Soapbox Cincinnati, Freshwater Cleveland and The Hub Springfield.
  • Also as a part of the Civics Essential series, Issue Media Group news outlets in Ohio provided a guide to casting an informed vote on local issues. This story contains links that may be helpful.

THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
Subscribe now.
HELP US GROW
Make a tax-deductible donation.
Amanda Garrett, Akron Beacon Journal
Amanda has covered news across the state of Ohio for more than 20 years. She specializes in making complex stories easier to understand, often through narrative storytelling. She's covered everything from public corruption and terrorism to spelling bees and Santa Claus. Before landing at The Akron Beacon Journal in 2015, she worked for 14 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, mostly on the projects/enterprise team. Before that, she wrote for smaller dailies in Northeast Ohio, The Cincinnati Post and the Raleigh/Durham News&Observer. Amanda has a special interest in eldercare, having paused her own career for three years to care for her own parents in failing health. She and her husband, the senior editor at The Plain Dealer, share a home with a 90-pound dog, three cats and a never-ending stream of news.