Debate Right, 8/21

Voters First Ballot Initiative is about sore losing

By Rob Scott

Redistricting has always been a hot topic in politics. Commonly referred to as gerrymandering, the practice attempts to gain a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating geographic boundaries to create safe districts.

Gerrymandering even occurred before the first election of the U.S. Congress.

In 1788, Patrick Henry and the anti-Federalists controlled the Virginia House of Delegates. The state legislature drew the boundaries of Virginia’s 5th Congressional district in an unsuccessful attempt to keep James Madison out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Historically, each state legislature has used gerrymandering to try to control the political makeup of their delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives and maximize the number of congressional delegation seats under the control of the legislature’s majority party.

The Supreme Court has weighed in many times on the issue, with the most recent example in the League of United Latin American Citizens v. Rick Perry in 2006. The high court upheld most of a Texas congressional map engineered in 2003 by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The 7–2 decision allows state legislatures to redraw and gerrymander districts as often as they like, even more than once per 10 years. The decision allows legislators to protect their political parties’ standing and number of seats, so long as they do not harm racial and ethnic minority groups.

The high court has even upheld districts specially set out to elect a minority. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, some states created “majority-minority” districts. This affirmative gerrymandering attempted to redress historic discrimination. However, since later rulings, gerrymandering based solely on racial data has been ruled unconstitutional.

The group in Ohio that is in charge of the ballot initiative for the reform is Voters First. This group is made up of the Unions that helped the Ohio Senate Bill 5 repeal effort, and the League of Women Voters. Also, they have had amazing support from the Ohio Democratic Party.

Under the current system in Ohio, the Ohio Apportionment Board is an administrative body which draws the single-member legislative districts for the Ohio General Assembly following the 10-year census. The Board has five members: the Governor of Ohio, the Ohio Secretary of State, the Ohio Auditor, a member selected by the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate leader from the same party, and a member selected by the house and senate leaders of the other party. Redistricting of Ohio Congressional districts is done by the Ohio General Assembly.

Guidelines for drawing districts are very unclear. Even Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has worked many years in the state legislature trying to reform redistricting, said, “There is all sorts of wiggle room that can be used for good or bad – and usually bad,” Husted said. “Nothing in their rules prevents maps from being drawn in a convoluted way. It’s left up to a group with no accountability.”

Regardless, Ohio and many states throughout the U.S. have been operating under this system.

The reason the Voters First amendment has become a priority is due to the massive losses the Democrats had in 2010.  The Democrats lost all of their statewide offices and control of the Ohio House of Representatives. Would these same “fairness” and “independence” seekers still want this if they would have maintained their power after 2010? A resounding NO!

Republicans in the statehouse tried to reform redistricting for many years. Starting in 2005, then-State Rep. Kevin DeWine and then-Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted attempted to reform the system. The duo even used a Democrat bill to get this done. In the end it was blocked by the minority Democrats.

In 2009, Republicans once again tried to reform the system but were stopped dead by the Democrat-controlled Ohio House. The reasoning for the blockage was the Democrats felt they would control the process in the 2010.

For many years, Democrats controlled the process. And now because the Democrats are sore losers, they, with their special interest buddies, feel motivated to reform the system which they would want to control.

Regardless of motivations, the Voters First proposal is a bad one. From the groups running it as well as the policies proposed, taking away the power of redistricting from our elected officials and turning it over to 12 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats is unacceptable.

Additionally, the amendment wants to hand over a major component to the Ohio Supreme Court. This strikes against the Separation of Powers doctrine so much that even the Ohio Bar Association stated openly they do not support the amendment, stating it puts independent judges in the middle of politics.

Also, the proposed citizens’ panel could end up drawing crazy-looking maps that are no better, and possibly worse, than what Ohio has today. I’m open to other suggestions, such as the utilization of technology to draw the maps or using fixed districts.

What I’m not open to is the use of a behind-the-scenes partisan group who wants to take control of the system and hand it to an unaccountable group to redraw boundary lines that were just completed this year.

Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and the founder of the Dayton Tea Party. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com.

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