For fairness in voter redistricting, vote ‘yes’ on state Issue 1


The ghost of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry has long been smiling on the Buckeye State. Gerry, after all, is the father and namesake of gerrymandering voting districts to unfairly favor one political party over another. For decades now, Ohio has been recognized as one of this nation’s leaders in the decidedly undemocratic practice.

That claim to shame remains firmly entrenched today. Consider that a scientific Pew Research Center survey finds that Ohio’s political makeup at 42 percent Republican or leaning Republican and 40 percent Democrat or leaning Democrat.

But when looking at elected state executive officeholders, the makeup is 100 percent Republican. The Grand Old Party wields a 2-1 advantage in the state House of Representatives, a 3-1 advantage in the state Senate and a whopping 4-1 advantage in Ohio’s 16-member delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fortunately, Ohio voters have a chance to close those wide gaps in proportional representation when they venture to vote in the primary election this spring.

GOALS OF STATE ISSUE 1

State Issue 1, the only Ohiowide initiative on the ballot, seeks to inject more robust compromise and bipartisanship into the process of redrawing Ohio’s congressional boundaries. Though it lacks the same degree of complete partisan independence as a previously proposed bipartisan commission tasked to redraw bondaries had possessed, the plan behind Issue 1 clearly represents a step in the right direction of fairness and equity in political representation for all voters in the state.

As such, we strongly urge voters to cast “yes” votes on Issue 1 this spring.

Under the current system of redrawing congressional districts after each 10-year U.S. Census of population, the Ohio General Assembly takes full charge in planning, debating and approving the new maps to respond to shifting populations and to keep each district with a relatively similar-sized population.

Adoption of the plan – developed largely by the party in power – requires only a simple majority vote in both chambers of the Legislature to carry the day. But that system invites inequities. The party in power can exploit its position of dominance to influence elections for the proceeding 10 years.

Under provisions of state Issue 1, redrawing U.S. House district maps would remain under the primary authority of the General Assembly. But new requiremens would greatly increase the likelihood of more fair- and less partisan-shaped districts.

SUPERMAJORITY FOR ADOPTION

That’s because Issue 1 would require 60 percent – not the current simple majority of 50 percent – of members in each chamber voting in favor of the plan. As an additional and creative safeguard, it also would require 50 percent of all Republicans and 50 percent of all Democrats within that majority to consent to the new maps. That progressive move would establish the Buckeye State as the first in the nation to require a majority of both political parties in order to adopt a congressional redistricting plan.

Contrast that with the adoption of the 2011 redistricting map in Ohio. In that plan’s adoption, only 8 percent of Democrats in both chambers of the Legislature voted for it.

The revisions and reforms that Issue 1 would implement clearly open the door much wider to more robust compromise in drawing new districts and must stronger equity in their final makeups.

KEEPING COMMUNITIES WHOLE

Another asset of the state issue lies in its requirement that redistricting must not unduly split government jurisdiction. The ultimate plan adopted must give preference to keeping whole, in this order: counties, then townships, then cities and villages. That requirement would help guard against the potential slicing and dicing of such areas as the Mahoning Valley that share strong common bonds and a cohesive regional identity.

Issue 1 also promotes keeping districts as compact as possible and not creating awkwardly contorted ones such as the district that resembled a salamander (whose last two syllables form the end of the word gerrymander) in Gov. Gerry’s blatantly political redistricting map of 1812.

With all that’s going for it, it’s no surprise that a wide and diverse array of political and nonpartisan groups have rallied around the state issue. Among those endorsing it are the Ohio Democratic Party, the Ohio Republican Party, the Ohio branch of the American Federation of Labor, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Council of Churches, the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Chapter of the NAACP.

We urge voters in this state to join that resounding chorus of support for Issue 1 when casting their ballots now through May 8.

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