“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood alongside fellow prominent civil rights leaders on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, sharing the significance of voting rights during his speech, “Give us the Ballot.” Throughout his life, Dr. King was a crusader for racial justice, while remaining steadfast in his mission of advocating for equal access to the ballot. As we approach the 2022 Midterm Election cycle, we reflect on sentiments from his speech that still ring true today.
April 4, marks the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, a date that coincides this year with the final day of voter registration for Ohio’s upcoming primary on May 3. More than five decades after his death, communities across the country are still facing an uphill battle in the path to voter accessibility. During 2021, at least 19 states passed legislation creating barriers to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These anti-voter laws happening across the country are especially prevalent in the South and intend to disenfranchise historically marginalized groups, specifically Black voters. In addition to negatively impacting voters of color, voter-suppression laws also most prominently affect young voters, voters with a disability, and voters with a past criminal conviction.
Ohio is not immune to this harmful legislation; in fact, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills including HB 387 and HB 294 that aim to strip away key early voting measures, such as limiting ballot drop boxes – or nixing them entirely – and reducing the amount of days individuals can vote early. Rather than strengthening voter engagement and building access to our democratic system, anti-voter legislation can often deter citizens from participating in their civic duty, while preying on the vulnerabilities of rural and underrepresented communities.
As we commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King on April 4, the day also serves as a reminder that the systemic transformations he dedicated his life to have been so viciously denigrated and we must continue his fight. By voting in every primary and election each year, we not only take hold of our own autonomy and the laws we abide by, as Dr. King avowed, but we also utilize our voice to vote for the future and success of others. The Ohio Statehouse still holds immense possibility for a more progressive, equitable society within our state, ranging from the anti-discriminatory Ohio Fairness Act and the chance to reform our broken cash bail system, to fervent efforts to join 23 other states and finally abolish the death penalty.
While Ohio’s disappointing ongoing redistricting process has caused some to feel that our democracy is on shaky ground, now more than ever is the time ensure our right to vote remains secure. To honor Dr. King and to honor your neighbor, hold on tight by taking the time to register to vote or check your voter registration and polling location. The opportunity for a better Ohio begins at the ballot.