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Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America; Coffee Contacts, 109th Annual Meeting of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce

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On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23rd, we went to the City Club to attend a program presented by the American Constitution Society and America Votes in which Ohio State Rep. Kathleen Clyde (Democrat from District 75) interviewed author and investigative journalist, Mr. Ari Berman about his book "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America."

We got there early and got to spend a few minutes visiting with Mr. Edward A. Alix who is a retired school teacher who is a very good friend of Ms. Margaret W. Wong and her family. He really appreciated the support that Ms. Wong has given to Cleveland's International Piano Competition.

Another good friend of the Wong family who was there was Mr. Aaron Bulloff who told us that his son and our Mr. Joseph Fungsang are very good friends.

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Two weeks ago Ms. Wong spoke at the Unitarian Church at Shaker Heights so Ms. Susan Alcorn, President of Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, came forward to tell us how much she liked Ms. Wong's presentation.

During the course of the program for this day, Mr. Berman discussed the backlash to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was almost immediate but has really intensified in recent years since the people who came of age during the years of the Reagan Presidency like U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts have acquired power.

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What is especially troubling was the 2013 Supreme Court decision in the case of  "Shelby County vs. Holder" which modified Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act so that certain jurisdictions that have a prior history of voter suppression no longer have to obtain preclearance before implementing any changes in their voting laws or practices. Oddly enough, one of those jurisdictions was Maricopa County in Arizona which became a center of attention in Tuesday's primary election after it reduced the number of polling places from 200 to 60 resulting in confusion and many complaints.

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Mr. Berman and Ohio State Rep. Clyde discussed problems with the 2000 U.S. Presidential election in Florida where some 12,000 people (many of whom were African-American and Hispanic) were mistakenly purged from the voter rolls because it was believed that they were felons/ex-felons and therefore ineligible to vote. To be sure, they went on to discuss the Ohio Presidential election of 2004 which Ohio State Rep. Clyde deemed "a poster child for voter mistakes." We, ourselves, still hear stories of the long lines at polling places which were too few in number and inadequately staffed and/or equipped. It was mentioned that the average wait time at polling places in predominantly white areas was 18 minutes but at African-American areas it was 52 minutes. In 2012 many laws hampering the voting process, like those concerning proper identification, became enforceable. Perhaps the reason for this was the 2008 U.S. Presidential election inspired the participation of 5 million new voters and many of these were African-American, Hispanic, or Asian and they voted for President Obama by 74%.

Mr. Berman used this as an illustration as to why certain forces would like to shape the electorate to be more white, older and conservative.

Unfortunately, in the U.S. Presidential campaign of 2016 thus far, the issue of voting rights has not come up once in any of the many debates. As the program concluded, Ohio State Rep. Clyde said that she would like to see more voter participation and possibly online voter registration in the State of Ohio, more access to early voting before election day and to make sure every vote is properly counted.

Mr. Berman said that he believes that more people need to change their perspective and consider voting to be a right instead of a privilege. He contended (and we agree) that the more people who vote the greater the democracy that we are. Moreover, he said, it is immoral to win an election by keeping people from voting and this holds true for both democrats and republicans.

Also on Wednesday we attended two networking events, one in the morning before we went to the City Club and one in the early evening in Akron.

First, we went to the monthly "Coffee Contacts" put on by the Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce which was held on this date at Jack's Pools and Spas on North Ridge Road in Madison. This establishment has been in business since 1980 and is a fixture in the community.

We spent a lot of our time here talking to other members and learning about upcoming events in the Lake County area.

One of the people that we talked to was Ms. Beth Debevc, Manager of Debonne Vineyards. Even though it seems that winter is over, the vineyard will still be monitoring its grapes closely due to frost conditions that are expected to end in May.  At this time, though, the emphasis is on bottling the wines. Ms. Debevc told us that Debonne Vineyards will be celebrating its 100th year on August 10th.

Another event that we look forward to attending is the 150th anniversary in of Geneva that will take place at Geneva Memorial Field on May 21st and 22nd.

We also talked to Mr. Mike Carswell of Sprint Media who told us that his wife and daughter will be leaving on Easter night to fly to Nicaragua where they will volunteer at an orphanage for a week. Mr. Carswell thanked Margaret W. Wong and Associates for buying an apple pie last fall from his wife because the proceeds went to help pay for the trip.

On Wednesday night we drove to Akron to attend the 109th Annual Meeting of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce which was held at the John S. Knight Center on East Mill Street. When we walked in we were amazed at the size of the banquet room which needed to be large to accommodate the 850 chamber members and their guests who had signed up to attend.

We had some good conversations with people who included:

***Mr. Bill Flinta of Westfield Bank who really likes it that Bhutanese and Nepali refugees have settled in North Hill because they have the potential to revive the area.

***Mr. Tony Rinella who works for the chamber and opens the daily mail so he is the first one to read the holiday greeting from Margaret W. Wong and Associates each year.

***Ms. Beth G. Boggins from United Way who told us of plans to create a playground in North Hill which will benefit the children of the refugee families. In fact, several local organizations will get together to build it on a day in June, 2016.

***Mr. Jake Ricker of PNC Bank who has been involved with seminars that teach the refugees (who have never used a bank before) the fundamentals about banks and proper maintenance of savings and checking accounts.

***Mr. Louis G. Berroteran of the Mayors Association of Portage, Stark, and Summit Counties. He told us that among the things done by his organization is arranging for city officials to take trips to other countries so they could see how things are run there. Accordingly, they have gone to India and China and plan on going to Cuba. We may arrange a meeting with him later.

At dinner, we shared a table with Ms. Jill Kolesar, President/CEO and Ms. Melissa Roddy, Executive Director of the YMCA and enjoyed talking to them about the various things that the YMCA does to assist the people of Akron.

It was a very productive gathering because we connected with quite a few chamber members who we ordinarily would not see at the early morning chamber meetings which we attend.

By:

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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