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Reproductive activists encourage student voter turnout in Athens

On June 22, a small number of progressives gathered on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse to publicly urge Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and other regional Democratic leaders to take action to increase student voting in support of the "Ohio Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative."

Damon Krane is running as an independent democratic socialist for the Athens Mayor against incumbent mayor, Steve Patterson. The first project of his campaign is increasing student voting, and Krane, alongside other progressive supporters, suggested there be a debate on Ohio Univerisity’s campus every year in the future, before the voter registration deadline, to enhance student voter turnout. 

Krane wants to involve the Democrats, and his opponent Mayor Patterson, to agree to participate in campus debates as well as promote them. He said in the last two election cycles, these debates were boycotted by the Democratic party, but he believes the debates will bring a positive awareness about political topics to inform students, especially since the upcoming election will concern abortion laws in Ohio. 

The Aug. 8 election includes Issue 1, which is the special ballot this year. Issue 1 would increase the number of votes required from 50% to 60% to pass a voter-initiated amendment. Additionally, it would require initiative petitions proposing an amendment for the ballot to be signed by 5% of the electors in each of Ohio's 88 counties, as opposed to the state's present 44. 

Abortions are legal in Ohio until 21 weeks and six days of pregnancy. Ohio’s abortion ban is currently on hold by the court; however, the Ohio Supreme Court has been asked to put the ban in effect again. An injunction on the ban would block any abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, especially after the passing of Issue 1. 

Shakti Rambarran, a private citizen, said the Ohio government is proposing Issue 1 due to reproductive rights being on the ballot, which will deny the rights and access to Ohioans, she added.

Krane hopes that coming together with the Democratic Party and hosting debates will educate students on the reproductive rights issues happening on the upcoming ballot, which will be a driving reason to urge students to partake in voting this year. 

“In theory, Mayor Patterson and the Democrats won this reproductive rights amendment that's going to be on the ballot statewide to pass, so they should want to boost turnout,” Krane said. “A lot of students will know that's on the ballot, and that will give them a reason to vote in this election that they haven't had in passing elections.”

Katie O’Neill, a former state representative contestant, said having an on-campus debate led by the university is important because students would have the opportunity to get to know the candidates, get registered to vote, meet local organizers and learn how to get involved. 

“If we are not having a robust democratic engagement here in Athens, then the students may not feel motivated to come out and vote this election, and (their vote) matters, it really matters,” O’Neill said. “It matters for our health, our civil rights and it matters for the Ohio Constitution. It matters for the democracy that we are trying to uphold our republic.”

Maya Knopp, an Athens resident, voiced her support for enhancing stronger voter turnout in Athens. Regardless of differing political views, ultimately gaining more young people to vote will strengthen democracy, Knopp said. 

“Whether incumbent or challenger, it is clear to me that our shared goal should be to encourage greater participation at the polls,” Knopp said. “Providing an opportunity for students to engage with candidates and ask their questions was an important initial step toward fostering a stronger bond amongst our community members.”

Krane said it’s vital to get students to the polls and participate in voting; he wants to optimize the mayor’s race to get more young people interested in voting. 

“I think it only makes sense to encourage, for the university to encourage, students to have a role in the governance of the place where they're going to live for four or five years,” Krane said.


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