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The Suburbanite
  • Amy Shriver Dreussi: State needs new redistricting process

  • Ohio’s voters last month rejected a measure that would have changed the way the state redraws its congressional districts, replacing the current partisan process with a non-partisan commission.

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  • MAKING CHANGE: This is not business as usual
    Third in a series
    Ohio’s voters last month rejected a measure that would have changed the way the state redraws its congressional districts, replacing the current partisan process with a non-partisan commission.
    However, the impetus for improving the redistricting process continues because the problems of the current system are so glaringly apparent that all sides agree, at least verbally, that change is needed.
    Just before the current session ended, the Ohio Senate passed legislation that would create a bipartisan redistricting panel. It was too late for the House to act. As voters, we should not let this issue die.
    The outcome of the Nov. 6 general election underscores the severity of the problem. Democratic candidates who ran statewide — Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown — won their races by roughly 100,000 and 250,000 votes, respectively. Yet Republicans running in the U.S. House of Representatives districts that were redrawn by Republican lawmakers won 12 of the 16 seats, or 75 percent. This in a state in which roughly one-third of voters identify themselves as Republicans.
    Let’s be clear, no matter which party does the redistricting, it will redraw districts to give itself the advantage.
    Sophisticated data mining techniques make doing so fairly simple. A few districts are surrendered to the opposition party and stuffed with as many of that party’s voters as possible, while the rest are sprinkled into “safe seats” — districts populated by a majority of voters aligned with the party that is redrawing the districts.
    There is every incentive to do this and zero incentive not to. Voters don’t pay much attention to such esoteric concerns.
    Why should Ohio’s voters care?
    NO NEED TO LISTEN
    “Safe seats” mean that U.S. representatives need not bother to figure out what constituents want. Their re-election is pretty much assured, barring some hideous gaffe or scandal.
    These sure bets play a prominent role in the bitter partisan divide that, sadly, characterizes governance in the House of Representatives these days.
    Ohio Republicans have had the great good fortune to be the ones to redraw the map for the past two post-census redistrictings. This year, they led the opposition to state Issue 2, the redistricting reform plan, despite the possibility that they may not be the party in power when Ohio next redraws the districts, after the 2020 census.
    Opposition to Issue 2 centered on several issues. The most common ones, including assertions that the measure amounted to a blank check for an unaccountable commission, were discredited by the Ohio Elections Commission.
    Newspaper editorial boards around the state, including The Repository’s, generally supported the concept of replacing the current system but disliked the specifics of the plan developed by Voters First, a coalition that included the Ohio League of Women Voters.
    Page 2 of 2 - So how can we channel this momentum?
    IT’S UP TO US
    The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, which is slated to spend the next 10 years reviewing and proposing changes to the state constitution, was suggested by anti-Issue 2 groups during the campaign as the vehicle for change. This seems like a momentum killer at best or, more likely, simply a way to defer action altogether.
    The Ohio Senate has created a bipartisan commission to recommend redistricting change. This is perhaps the most promising avenue in the short term.
    Ultimately, it is up to us, as Ohio voters, the ones who would benefit from meaningful change in the redistricting process, to make this happen.
    Let’s not let our political leadership get away with mere lip service about changing the corrosive, unfair system of redistricting. Let’s allow Ohio voters to select their political leaders rather than the other way around.
    The Ohio Senate had started the process to correct this. Let’s not let it end with the lame-duck session.
    Concerned voters can contact the Canton Area League of Women Voters. Email mail@cantonlwv.org or visit our website, cantonlwv.org.
    Or let your state legislators know that this issue remains important to you. If you don’t know how to contact them, check The Repository’s Saturday editorial page or visit legislature.state.oh.us.
    Make your vote count!
    Amy Shriver Dreussi, Ph.D, is co-president of the Canton Area League of Women Voters and an associate professor of social science at the University of Akron.