EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Lynda Mayer and Maryann Barnes, Co-Presidents, League of Women Voters of Cuyahoga Area (OH).
We Cuyahoga County folks have gotten used to being the last Ohio county to report in on Election Night thus deciding whether the state and the nation will go red or blue. So 2013 should be a relaxing off-year, right? Wrong. Let us explain...
Greater Cleveland has 59 municipalities, divided up among three Leagues of which LWV Cuyahoga Area is the largest. To one degree or another, all local Leagues have versions of the same narrative to tell. Here in Cuyahoga County, our local chapter workhorses have just concluded a two-month election season where we published 15 public forums & candidates’ nights, labored to produce eight print or online Voters Guides, and advocated on seven countywide ballot issues.
But unlike in normal municipal election cycles, we also undertook a less routine project this Fall: a high school voter education and registration project, shared with the LWV Cleveland Area and the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. We visited and talked to thousands of high school students while registering over 300 eligible new voters in the senior English classes of the Cleveland Municipal School District’s 23 public high schools! Although the project coincided with National Voter Registration Day, it took us, our partners and 50 volunteers almost two weeks to complete.
We came to the schools equipped with a FAQ brochure for first-time Ohio voters, oversized registration forms and sample ballots to help the new voters get ready to participate in their first election. In addition to completing registration forms, we worked with school administrators who have incorporated voter preparation into their curriculums, as well as ferried new voters to take advantage of early voting opportunities.
It was exciting to be a part of this project – helping to make a difference in Cleveland’s civic life and demonstrating that our democracy is not a spectator sport. We also learned important lessons for how we can improve this and other future voter registration projects.
So while Ohio and Cuyahoga County will likely not be the focal point of the nation on Election Night 2013, things keep roiling and boiling here in the Cuyahoga Cauldron, even in the off-year and even if currently off-stage. And we’re already gearing up for our voter service activities in 2014, thinking about producing web-based Voters Guides, collaborative regional candidate forums, and yes – hopefully also heading back to the Cleveland schools to register next year’s new voters!