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At the Ballot Box and Beyond in Cincinnati

As a powerful storm rolled across the Cincinnati hills, the Langsam Library at the University of Cincinnati was eerily silent. The library served as one of many polling locations across the city for Ohio’s midterm primary elections. Only a day before, Politico released a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade, suggesting it will be overturned this summer. The polling place—located in a glass-lined conference room on the library’s first floor—was vacant, aside from the workers who were trading anecdotes and discussing summer vacation plans. One, who was hunched across a desk and had his baseball cap pulled down, had fallen asleep. Although the poll workers declined to be interviewed, they directed me to a piece of paper taped to the door: “No voters have checked into this precinct.”

As I wandered around the mostly empty halls, I spoke to the smattering of students gathered there and asked if they were planning to vote. A woman named Jeya Kannan said she’d “completely forgotten” about the primary. She believed that apathy toward electoral politics was a common feeling among her generation right now. “A lot of people feel that their votes don’t matter,” she said, and later told me that democracy was “going out of style.” Jack Romey, a UC senior majoring in Business administration, made reference to the Politico leak and opined that young people would “think about it if and when they go to the polls.” Others were completely unaware of the leak and uninterested in casting a vote. “I have no idea what it’s for, or about,” said Hailey Mason, when asked if they were casting a ballot today. When I returned to the polling station later that day, the paper on the door had changed. Three people had now voted.

On Cincinnati’s Main Street downtown, things were more lively. A protest had formed in opposition to the leaked opinion, one of hundreds occurring in cities across the United States, organized by local groups Cincy Socialists, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Democratic Socialists of America. Waving placards that read “abortion is healthcare” and “legalize abortion once and for all,” the protesters said they felt the United States has reached a crisis point because of the Supreme Court’s prospective ruling. “This might be that tipping point,” said Carrie, who preferred not to disclose her last name, wearing an “I Voted” T-shirt after returning from a polling station only moments ago. She was “pissed off.”

Although she had voted, Carrie, when asked if electoral activism mattered, said it was “becoming less and less so,” with community organizing gaining more importance. “I don’t think a two-party system is going to save us,” said Genevieve Culbertson, a member of Cincinnati Socialists. “I don’t have faith in electoralism in the frame of a capitalist economic system.” Even less trust was given to the Biden administration, and the Democratic Party as a whole.

A day after the leak, Biden released a statement saying he believed “that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental” and suggested that saving Roe was critical for “basic fairness and the stability of our law.” But nowhere did he mention eliminating the filibuster or expanding the Supreme Court to achieve that goal. Genevieve called Biden’s statement “lukewarm” and said it helped show “the weakness of the Democratic Party.” Paul Vine, a member of Cincy Socialists, “wanted to believe” the Democrats’ promises that they would codify Roe, but on the topic of abortion rights, Paul felt they had “done nothing” his entire life.

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