Ohio ballot initiative takes on gerrymandering
Every ten years as a result of the U.S. decennial census and pursuant to state and federal law, Ohio legislative districts and Ohio congressional districts are redrawn according to changes in population. According to current Ohio law, a five-person commission has the final say on the where the lines are drawn creating the new districts on the new map. That commission is made up of the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor and two members selected by the legislative leaders of the two major parties. The party which controls three of the five members of the commission, in effect, controls the shape of Ohio’s legislative districts.
The result of this process, also known as gerrymandering, has produced wildly partisan and one-sided results. For the most recent redistricting, Republicans were in control and the district lines reflect that bias. The last time Democrats controlled at least three of the five districts needed to control the process was during the 1981 redistricting. Republicans held a majority of the commission in 1991, 2001 and again last year in 2011.
The party in power draws the lines to benefit its candidates. The Democrats had control in 2010 going into the 2010 mid-term elections but lost all of the state administrative offices and, with them, the ability to control the process in 2011. Ironically, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted introduced a reform in 2009, supported by the League of Women Voters, which was rejected by Democrats. The reform would have given Democrats significant input in the 2011 redistricting process. Instead, the commission approved the Republican-drawn maps which were clearly designed to solidify GOP congressional, Ohio Senate and Ohio House majorities.
The process of redistricting in Ohio is about to meet its newest challenge: The Ohio Ballot Board has now certified the signatures of a ballot initiative and approved a summary of a proposed amendment language on the November ballot that would reform the state’s process for redrawing legislative boundaries. The Ohio League of Women Voters has teamed with other labor and voting rights groups to push the initiative. Ohio voters will now decide the fate of the much-maligned redistricting process.
Among other provisions, the proposed constitutional amendment creates a 12-member Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw congressional, state Senate and state House districts every 10 years after each U.S. Census. The amendment requires a new map to be immediately drawn using the new criteria with districts to take effect in 2014. The amendment also requires the commission to adopt a map that most closely meets these four following criteria without violating federal voting rights law: splits the fewest local government units; creates the most politically competitive districts; represents the political makeup of the state as a whole; and keeps districts compact. To approve a new plan, a vote of at least seven of the 12 commissioners must agree on a map. This constitutional amendment also requires the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court to name a bipartisan panel of eight appellate judges to vet applicants and select a pool of 42 potential commissioners – 14 Democrats, 14 Republicans and 14 independents.
Critics of the ballot initiative argue that finding four truly independent commission members is as big a challenge as it was for Diogenes the Cynic in his search for an honest man. If voters approve the constitutional amendment certified this week for the ballot, recently enacted Republican-drawn maps would be thrown out and redrawn in time for the 2014 elections.
Forum Question of the Week:
Is it possible to take the politics out of the redistricting issue and is the plan by the League of Women Voters the right approach to give Ohio a non-partisan approach to redistricting?