What does redistricting mean for Ohio voters?

Posted at 12:35 PM, Oct 13, 2015

COLUMBUS -- When Ohio voters head to the polls on Nov. 3, one of three statewide issues they’ll see would change who holds the pen when the state draws its voting districts.

But what does that actually mean for the average voter?

“Fair districts means fair elections,” said Catherine Turcer, senior policy analyst for Common Cause Ohio. “For too long, Ohio’s districts have been rigged to basically benefit the party of the map-making, the party in the majority.”

Common Cause is the leading advocate for the issue in Ohio and has built a coalition of over 100 Ohio organizations supporting the passage of Ohio Issue 1.

Issue 1 represents a bipartisan push to include the minority party, currently Democrats, in drawing district lines. If passed, it would amend the Ohio Constitution to require a seven-member, public commission, including two appointees from the minority party, to make the redistricting process fairer. 

Currently the Ohio Apportionment Board, the body that draws district lines in the state, is not a bipartisan body. It’s made up of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and two appointees from the majority leaders in the House and Senate. Currently, that board would likely be entirely Republican.

“Even though [redistricting] only happens every 10 years, it has real consequences for the vote, and if the vote is manipulated, at the end of the day, elected officials are not as accountable to voters,” Turcer said.

It’s just one step toward fighting perceived gerrymandering of districts in the state that Democratic lawmakers say gives preferential treatment to Republican candidates.

The biggest story surrounding Issue 1 is its utter lack of organized opposition, and this is an
indication of the issue’s wide-sweeping support, according to Executive Director of the League
of Women Voters of Ohio Carrie Davis.

The League has recommended voters pass the ballot issue next month. 

“It would be leaps and bounds better than what have now,” Davis said. “It has been endorsed by the state Democratic Party, the state Republican Party, the Green Party. Just this week we hit over 100 organizations across the state who support the issue. The list just keeps getting longer and longer.”

In 2012, Ohio voters shot down a ballot issue that would have established an independent, citizen-based commission that some states, like California, have enacted. However, Turcer and Davis are more optimistic that a bipartisan commission will not be repeat of 2012.

“The supporters are a very diverse group of people,” Turcer said. “It’s also really interesting story to think about: All of these folks coming together to do something that’s better for all of us.”

She said there’s no clear political opposition because it’s not politically beneficial to endorse gerrymandering in the state.

Some Ohio lawmakers want to take this push one step forward and propose Congressional redistricting reform. A new senate resolution would encourage change on the national level.

Making state districts fairer would be just one indication that national voting lines need redrawn according to Democratic Rep. Michael Curtain of Marblehead.

“The voters will soon decide whether to reform how we draw state districts,” Curtin said in a statement. “If they agree with the General Assembly to make this needed change, we should immediately follow up with a proposal to apply the same common sense changes to how we draw congressional districts.”

Ben Postlethwait is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter @BCPostlethwait