Getting Refocused on Congressional Redistricting Reform in Ohio

Getting Refocused on Congressional Redistricting Reform in Ohio

by Bill Woods
Bill Woods with Manuel Pérez Photo: Caroline Cory

Reform groups got an early start in their goal of getting Congressional Redistricting reform on the 2017 Ohio ballot. Last Thursday, Common Cause/Ohio, the League of Women Voters, Progress Ohio, and others sponsored “Virtual Lobby Day For Congressional Redistricting Reform.”  The Day involved getting their members and friends throughout Ohio to telephone or email Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to urge him to take up this issue in the coming months.

After last November’s victory at the polls that put in place a Constitutional amendment that reformed the process for drawing the districts for the Ohio House and Senate, reformers have experienced a disappointing 2016. Proponents of the 2015 redistricting amendment were expecting the House and Senate to pass a similar proposal for Congressional districts this year, but negotiations with key legislators broke down during the winter and early spring. Redistricting reform advocates couldn’t even get an adequate proposal from the Ohio Constitutional Commission.

In fact, Virtual Lobby Day constituted an event to keep this issue before the public and state leaders like Speaker Rosenberger. “Since this is a Congressional election year,” noted Catherine Turcer of Common Cause/Ohio, “This is an ideal time to educate voters about the need to reform our badly gerrymandered Congressional districts. We can simply point out to most people the reality of the gerrymandered districts they live in.”

Although both major parties have exploited the process of gerrymandering when they were in control of state government, the Republicans have dominated the procedure in Ohio after the last two U.S. Census population counts. Furthermore, the use of computers has allowed data crunchers to perfect the drawing of districts that greatly favor one party. Ohio, considered a swing state, has voted for the Democratic candidate for President in 2008 and 2012. Nevertheless, skilled gerrymandering currently gives our State twelve Republican members of Congress and four Democrats.

Since the Constitution gives states the authority to administer elections, Ohio is one of many states with extremely gerrymandered Congressional districts. In recent years, the Republican Party has been extremely successful in using redistricting to its advantage in a number of states across the country. In one of these states, North Carolina, Common Cause has recently brought a suit to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District that argues that North Carolina’s latest redistricting plan is unconstitutional. Common Cause avers that the plan violates the First Amendment rights of thousands of North Carolina voters.

Reformers in Ohio, North Carolina, and other states make the case that by drawing districts that normally insure the election of one party’s candidates, millions of citizens are denied the opportunity to make their votes count. They proclaim that the process of politicians picking their voters before an election ever takes place negates the concept of a government determined by “we the people.”  Safe guards against gerrymandering are long overdue, and citizens must establish them to overcome the inclination of every party to use this procedure to stack the deck in its favor. Or as one political spoof put it: “Pols prefer to pick their voters, than beg for cash from General Motors!”