SWING STATE FORUM--The View from Ohio

November 1, posted by Linda Basch 

Today I bring you the third in our Swing State Forum, a series of posts in which I've been interviewing members of our network about the issues that matter most to women in different states.  (See also The View from Michigan and The View from Idaho.)  Julie Graber is the Senior Associate for Strategic Planning in the Colleges of the Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University, where she is responsible for leading the start-up work for The Institute on Women, Gender, and Public Policy, a new research center being established to track the status of women and girls in the state of Ohio.

Linda Basch: What are the key issues facing women in your state as they get ready to hit the polls?

Julie Graber: Like everyone across the country, women in Ohio face critical issues related to the economy – not just current economic conditions, but also long-term issues that have been barriers to economic success. 

Ohio ranks in the bottom 12 states for the percentage of women age 25 and older with four or more years of college (22%), which has a significant impact on a woman’s earning ability.  Women in Ohio also have specific health issues that need to be addressed, such as a high rate of death from breast cancer, and these issues are impacted at the policy level when it comes to research and funding.

Ohio women also need to pay attention to the number of women serving in our state legislature, which has been on a decline since the mid-1990s and now stands at 17%.  Women may not agree on all of the issues, but research has demonstrated the an increase in the number of women serving in a legislative body increases the amount of attention paid to issues related to the health, education and the environment.  Women need to keep in mind the types of decisions that are made at the state level – how federal programs are implemented and how federal dollars are spent is often controlled by state legislative and executive officials, for example.  While much of the focus has been on the presidential campaign this year, the outcomes of our state-level elections will have a significant impact on women as well. 

LB: What are the most critical policy issues currently at stake in your region?

JG: Ohio has often been a bellwether state, at least for the Midwest region of the U.S.  We’ve been hit hard by the economic declines experienced by the rest of the country, with some of the highest levels of unemployment in 16 years.  These issues topped the list of concerns among Ohioans when asked to identify “the most important issue” in deciding their vote for president in a poll conducted in September 2008 by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.  The other top issues were the war in Iraq, energy and gas issues and health care and health insurance. 

There’s also tremendous geographical diversity in the state that impacts the issues of most concern.  Northern Ohio has been part of the rust-belt, southeastern Ohio is part of Appalachia, and we have three major cities (Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati) that tend to differ significantly from the rural portions of the state in areas such as education level, household income, level of poverty and unemployment. 

LB: Are there any special fears about voting fraud in your state and if so, what is being done to address this?  Are there any initiatives underway that others in our national network might support?

JG: We’ve had challenges related to voting in our state in the past; in the last presidential election, the distribution of polling machines was a huge issue and resulted in people waiting in line for as many as eight to ten hours to vote. 

There have also been issues related to the use of electronic voting machines and early voting.  We did ease the process since the last election by loosening the requirements for voting absentee; voters now do not have to provide a specific reason for requesting an absentee ballot. 

And our Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, has focused a significant portion of her resources in the two years since taking office on strengthening the state’s ability to manage an election effectively.  Obviously, the real test will be on Tuesday, but there are reasons to be hopeful that we won’t repeat the missteps of the past. 

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