Just My Opinion – Voter “Voice” Suppression in Local Government
To be clear, voter “voice” suppression is not the same as voter suppression but they are very similar in nature and intent. Both use a set of rules, regulations and requirements designed to limit opportunities and rights granted by the United States Constitution, the right to vote and the right to free speech. Voter suppression is a controversial issue that has been a hot-button part of American politics since before the founding of the country and has intensified tremendously in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Voter “voice” suppression, on the other hand, is accomplished in more subtle ways and can include everyone in the country, not just the registered voter.
The Swanton Village Council has no authority to restrict voting but they do have the authority, under the Ohio Revised Code, to restrict and even eliminate the public’s voice during Village meetings. They can and do use this power at their wont and convenience. This year they found they had the power to suppress the Mayor’s voice during meetings by removing the “Mayor’s Report” from the agenda and did so by a 5-1 vote.
As for the public at large, to address the Swanton Village Council on any topic, you must follow the procedure laid out and approved by the Council within their “Rules of Council” at the beginning of the calendar year. First, contact the Village Offices by noon on the Thursday prior to the meeting on Monday to be placed on that meeting’s agenda. Second, the agenda must be approved by the President of the Council, currently Craig Rose, before it is published on that Friday. If you clear that hurdle, and it is not a given, you are placed towards the end of the meeting agenda and are allowed to speak only on your designated topic or issue. Council may also decide to limit the length of time you have. They also have the right to suspend their own rules at any time if it serves their purpose. Now you may speak. Now you may not.
By comparison, here is the way the Delta Village Council treats anyone wanting to address their members at a meeting. After the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, the Mayor will ask, “Is there anyone here who wishes to address the Council?” No call to the Village Office needs to be made. No speaker’s names need to appear on the agenda. No hoops need to be jumped through. The speaker is then asked to step to the podium and give their name and address for the record.
Occasionally, a brief discussion will take place between the speaker and Council members. Once finished, the Mayor will ask, “Is there anyone else who wishes to address the Council?” If not, the meeting proceeds. Prior to adjourning, the Mayor will ask, “Based on what was discussed during this meeting, does anyone have any comments or questions?” In the over four years I have attended the Delta Village Council meetings, I would estimate that half of the meetings will have a speaker from the audience, usually at the beginning, and it will generally add approximately ten minutes on average to the length of the meeting.
The citizens of Delta will have their own assessment of the overall performance of their Council and their Village administrators, but in this area, they are the beneficiaries of good and progressive policy. Their voices are not only heard by everyone in attendance at the Council meeting but can also be heard in the next day or two when the Village places the unedited audio recording on the Village’s website under Council Minutes.
The Swanton Village Council does not offer their citizens the same benefit and opportunities for their voices to be heard and for the rest of the constituency to listen to those voices. In fact, under the current leadership of this Council, the rules have become more restrictive. The voters of Swanton will have their chance to change the rules but will need to begin by changing the Council in November.
Pictured: Delta citizens who spoke to Village Council as “walk-in” speakers.