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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

Voter Registration Efforts Take on New Urgency in Cleveland Following Death of Supreme Court Justice

photo of Edith Turner, Rebecca Maurer, Tawayne Mcgee
Kabir Bhatia
/
WKSU
Volunteers in Slavic Village were helping people register to vote, request absentee ballots, and even fill out the census over the weekend. They say the death of Justice Ginsburg on Friday has increased the importance of getting people to vote.

A Kent State political science professor who specializes in Supreme Court politics is not surprised about the partisan debate that’s erupted over filling the seat left open by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey have threatened to expand the number of seats on the court – and eliminate the filibuster -- if President Trump makes a nomination before the election.

Prof. Chris Banks says that could just be political posturing and “whether it actually happens is another issue. I think maybe the filibuster would go, but it pretty much is already gone in many respects.”

Ohio’s Republican Senator, Rob Portman, said he will judge nominees “on their merits.” He further claimed that -- since the 1880s -- no Supreme Court nominee has been confirmed in an election year when the president and Senate majority are of opposite parties -- as they were in 2016. However, in 1988, Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed unanimously by a Democrat-controlled Senate; he had been nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has said the nomination should wait till after the election.

Voting rights
Ginsburg was a champion of voter rights, and her memory loomed over several voter registration events in Cleveland during the weekend.

In Slavic Village, Cleveland City Councilman Tony Brancatelli praised Ginsburg and said her death has created a renewed sense of urgency to get people registered to vote. He says some people in his ward don’t feel their vote matters.

“I’m concerned that people are just going to throw up their hands and say, ‘my vote isn’t going to count anyway.’ They’re concerned about doing mail-in voting – that somebody’s going to mess around with the ballots. They’re concerned, ‘I don’t want to go in line. I don’t want to risk myself or my family members.’ But we really want to tell people folks [to], ‘get that absentee ballot, get it to your household, and our U.S. Postal Service will make sure it gets to the Board of Elections.’”

The non-profit Slavic Village Development group coordinated several voter registration events over the weekend in conjunction with neighborhood churches. The deadline to register to vote in Ohio is Monday, October 5.

At Elizabeth Baptist Church, volunteer Tawayne McGee said he’s trying to get people to realize how important it is to vote.

“It’s not just an election every two or four years. It’s an election every year – from statewide to local.”

His fellow volunteer, Rebecca Maurer, says many in the neighborhood are concerned about the entire process.

“I like to tell people about how good the Board of Elections is at letting you know, ‘yes -- you successfully registered.’ People don’t realize – [if] they’re worried about the post office -- they can track their ballot.”

Maurer adds that another challenge in Slavic Village is that many potential voters do not have reliable internet access to register.

Church member Latoya Ellington also invited people to come to her church on Saturday for help filling out the census – something that’s become challenging during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We just wanted to double check with the community. So we have done canvassing -- and also this block party event – which will bring people in and make them feel more comfortable. And so we could just reassure that we did do our part to reach out so everyone has been alerted.”

The White House had ordered the census count to end next Wednesday, September 30. But a federal judge has put that on-hold as a coalition led by the National Urban League continues fighting to extend the end date.