The ultimate act of political cynicism and democratic sabotage is taking place at the statehouse in Columbus at this very moment, on one side of the aisle. There’s just no way to “both sides” this one.
As many are aware (and everyone should be), Ohio congressional districts were drawn following the 2010 census with such an eye toward partisan advantage that, even though statewide, Ohioans on the whole generally vote close to 50/50 for a congressperson, Ohio’s delegation is 12 Republicans and four Democrats. No district is really competitive. As fair districts advocates like to say, it’s a matter of elected officials picking their voters rather than voters picking their elected officials.
Yes, occasionally Democrats do it too, but coast-to-coast, most of the worst gerrymanders are Republican. And with each census, the ability to pinpoint voters and allocate them to pre-decide election results grows to the point where some have predicted that after the next census, voting will essentially be irrelevant.
As a result of legislative inaction, the Ohio League of Women Voters last year began collecting signatures to place on the November 2018 ballot an issue that would change the redistricting process in this state, take it out of the hands of the legislature, move it to a bipartisan commission, set some ground rules about the competitiveness and compactness of districts, and give citizens some input. The LWV currently has about 200,000 of the required 305,000 valid signatures to do so.
This apparently panicked some members of the legislature, where Republicans have a super-majority (also the result of gerrymandering, not voter choice). Leadership quickly assembled a taskforce to come up with their own redistricting proposal, with the suspected aim of rushing it to the May 2018 ballot and undercutting the LWV proposal.
Given that a 2105 ballot issue to change how the Ohio state legislature is redistricted passed by a margin of 71%-29% (sadly it doesn’t kick in until the 2022 election), what they came up with was especially appalling. Not only didn’t they improve on the current broken process, they made it WORSE. Their plan keeps congressional redistricting in the hands of the legislature and eliminates any possible challenges, removing the governor’s veto power and banning citizen referendum to overturn it. It essentially enshrines gerrymandering into the Ohio constitution.
They released this plan last week, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time overturned a gerrymander done for partisan purposes (it has previously overturned maps based on racial gerrymanders). It is scheduled for hearings this week, a week that began with the Pennsylvania supreme court overturning a partisan gerrymander there. And Rep. Matt Huffman, the lead sponsor of the bill, doesn’t want to hear from you (614-466-7584). He posted on his Twitter feed this weekend: “I didn’t take enough abuse from people I don’t know for my congressional redistricting proposal so I volunteered to ref CYO games this morning.” Ha ha. Again, that’s 614-466-7584.
Why should you care and what should you do?
You should care because gerrymandering means that an elected official doesn’t have to worry what voters want and doesn’t answer to them. So whether your cause is climate change or women’s rights, health care or guns, education or immigration, redistricting is the gateway to responsive representation — that is, responsive to citizens and not lobbyists and big campaign donors. It also means that with the partisan outcome of the general election pre-decided, the real election is the primary — when the most hardcore of each party’s base turn out, causing candidates to swing heavily to the left or right. Then they take extreme positions because they’re answering to the most extreme voters.
What should you do? Start by calling the engineers of this abomination and telling them to do right by Ohioans (614-446-7584). If they don’t listen, vote NO in the May primary when they put their issue on the ballot. And go to the League of Women Voters’ Fair Districts website to find out where you can get petitions. If you can help out by gathering signatures at an event, sign up. Even if you can only get your family and friends to sign, that helps.
Go here: fairdistrictsohio.org.
UPDATE: Republican leaders in the legislature have put the brakes on the process, due to the blowback they got from constituents (thank you!), and are now saying they won’t go to the ballot with anything until the Fair Districts campaign is on board. They only have until February 7 to create their own issue for the May ballot, so the chances of this happening have now decreased. Get in touch with the Fair Districts campaign at the website above and help collect the signatures they need to get on the November ballot!