Barring a colossal failure on the part of the group seeking to change the way Ohio’s legislative district lines are drawn, the people will have the chance in November to send a strong message to the politicians.
Voters First has submitted more than 430,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to create a citizens commission to draw Ohio’s legislative and congressional district lines. Approximately 385,000 valid signatures of registered voters are required from counties throughout the state.
Leaving nothing to chance, the proponents of the amendment are continuing their petition drive to secure additional signatures in the event there aren’t enough in the original batch.
Such attention to detail is necessary, given that the politicians who now control the congressional redistricting and legislative district reapportionment processes aren’t eager to give up their power.
More to the point, Republicans who occupy all the statewide elected offices and control the General Assembly are responsible for the districts that will be in place for the next 10 years. That’s because they won the 2010 election and, thus, were in charge of the redistricting and reapportionment based on the 2010 population census.
The GOP shut out the opposition Democrats and also ignored the appeals from 25 grassroots organizations to adopt a non-partisan, fair system.
That flexing of political muscle gave rise to Voters First’s campaign to take the politicians out of the mix.
“The proposed amendment, which we anticipate will be on the November ’12 ballot, will ensure every Ohio voter’s right to fair, competitive districts,” said Ann Henkener, redistrict specialist for the Ohio League of Women Voters. “We want to replace the current system, where the politicians draw their own lines. They … rigged the system.”
Use of the word rigged is not an exaggeration, considering what the Republicans have done with the congressional districts. Because Ohio’s population did not grow as much as other states, the number of districts was reduced from 18 to 16. The House and Senate, along with Gov. John Kasich, who signed the legislation, made sure that 12 of the 16 favored the GOP. That is why the 25 grass-roots organizations publicly criticized what had been done and refused to endorse the plan.
A map that was produced in a national contest sponsored by Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting (it met all the federal and state legal requirements and gave Democrats and Republicans an equal chance of winning in a majority of the 16 districts) received little more than a glance from the Republicans.
The system is rigged to benefit the party in power. And given today’s extreme partisanship, there is little willingness to play fair.
If the constitutional amendment makes it to the November general election ballot and Ohio voters approve it, the 12-member commission replacing the apportionment board and the congressional redistricting process would include four Republicans, four Democrats and four nonpartisan voters. Eight of the 12 would be required to sign off on any districts.
Of significance, lobbyists, politicians and large campaign contributors would not be allowed to serve on the commission.
“What we don’t want is our district lines manipulated,” said Catherine Turcer, speaking on behalf of Voters First. “What we do want are districts that are compact, [keeping] our communities together.”
Republicans have stretched the bounds of politics in order to achieve the huge majority they will have in the congressional delegation after the November general election.
For that, they ought to be taught a lesson in civics — by the people of Ohio.