The upcoming November ballot will be so overcrowded that many Ohio voters may just give up instead of having to make so many choices. This fall, Ohio voters will choose the President, a U.S. Senator, some State Senators, every U.S. and state House member, two state Supreme Court justices, and a long list of county and local officials. If that isn’t enough, they also will be faced with a growing number of state and local ballot issues.
In spite of this, a potential addition is both timely and needed.
We have all been taught to believe that, in our Democratic Republic, the voters pick their leaders. While this may be technically correct, to a large extent the politicians pick the voters for many positions. Although practiced in varying degrees, almost since the founding of the nation, the nefarious action of redistricting has now been perfected through partisanship and technology to an intolerable level.
Every 10 years, after the completion of the national Census, Ohio must adjust the boundaries of state legislative and U.S. House districts to reflect population changes. This is done nationwide in order to conform to the 435 members of Congress representing equal numbers of people. States either gain or lose seats depending upon population changes over the previous decade. No matter if Republicans or Democrats control the General Assembly and the statewide offices that are charged with redrawing the lines, the dominant party always abuses its power to create more favorable districts for itself and fewer for the other party. Creating “cock-eyed” districts that ignore established boundaries and territorial interests for the purpose of “stacking” the vote is called gerrymandering.
This is used to insure desired electoral results for a particular party, or may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a racial, linguistic, religious, or other class group.
The recent redistricting misadventure in Ohio places The Ohio State University and Ohio University in the same congressional district as well as creates a district stretching from Toledo to Cleveland that can be jumped across by one in slightly better physical shape than yours truly.
Congressional districts are now so rigged that most U.S. Representatives of either party were already selected during the Primary Election, making the general election meaningless and robbing millions of voters of a voice or a choice.
It is counterproductive, if not unfair, to blame the current party in power for this debacle; because when given half a chance, this is exactly what politicians do. They recognize that if “undesirable” voters cannot be disenfranchised of their vote, they can be gerrymandered into impotence.
Redistricting is also largely to blame for the polarization we now must bear in government. Those lawmakers in “safe” districts can vote on the extremes, whether left or right, with concern only for their party’s leaders, not the voters. The political “middle of the road” is respected only by those representatives in competitive districts, of which there are few if any.
This year Ohio voters have a chance to do what politicians won’t: remove the obviously irresistible temptation to place partisanship ahead of the public interest. The only way to do that is with a constitutional amendment that would put a nonpartisan, independent citizens’ commission in charge of creating compact, competitive political districts that reflect the demographics of the state.
Voters First Ohio, a nonpartisan coalition of government watchdog groups, has suggested reform for years and has held public contests to draw compact districts that observe county and community lines with no regard to partisanship. The group has been ignored by Ohio’s political leaders but maybe now the tables will be turned.
Until July fourth, advocates of change will be collecting signatures (386,000 valid are required) to place the issue on November’s ballot. If the issue makes it to the ballot and is passed by the voters, politicians and their lackeys would no longer draw the lines. Nine of the new Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission members would be chosen by lot from pools of Independent, Republican and Democratic citizens who have been screened by a panel of eight appellate judges. These nine would be equally split (3 each) from the three pools, and would then select the remaining three members (also equally split) to round out a mandated twelve-person commission that would approve any future plan of redistricting.
All commission meetings shall be open to the public and an affirmative vote of at least seven members shall be required to adopt any plan.
The required four criteria for redistricting will be community preservation, competitive districts, representational fairness and compactness. If the Ohio Supreme Court or a federal court determines a plan to be invalid, the Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission shall establish new boundaries. If it is necessary for any court to establish district boundaries, it shall select from among the plans submitted or considered by the Commission, and it shall adopt the plan that most closely meets the four criteria.
Any Ohio voter is eligible to serve on the Commission who has voted in two of the last three general elections and has not been a state or federal elected official or candidate, paid lobbyist, an official or paid employee of any political party, or contributed more that $5.000 to campaigns or parties in the last two years.
When I see proposals like this, my first reaction is to recall the words of Alfred E. Neuman, “Just because things change doesn’t mean they’re any different.” But even if this statement would prove true, we certainly cannot be in any worse situation than we are now.
Every voter, Independent, Republican or Democrat, who cares about fairness in the electoral process should seek out and sign one of the thousands of petitions that are now circulating. We certainly have a lot more to gain than to lose.
Jim Surber is the Darke County Engineer and the president of the Darke County Democratic Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.