Citizen redistricting commission amendment fails

Aaron Kinney

Ohio voters rejected the redistricting amendment known as Issue 2 on ballots Tuesday.

The proposed amendment to Ohio’s constitution would have taken redistricting power away from the state legislature and given it to an independent citizen commission.

“The inspiration was the gerrymandered districts that Ohio has had since 1967, at least, when the Apportionment Board was created,” said Ann Henkener, a member of the League of Women Voters’ board of directors. “And we’ve been working on this gerrymandering issue since then, trying to get more reasonable districts.”

Voters First, the campaign for Issue 2 led by the League of Women Voters, would have had an independent commission redrawing and evaluating districts based on four categories: compactness, representational fairness, competitiveness and respectfulness for county lines.

“There would be four Democrats, four Republicans and four independents on this commission,” said Evan Gildenblatt, executive director of Undergraduate Student Government. “They would be citizens — no politicians, no lobbyists — and they would decide fairly how to draw the lines.”

Gildenblatt said the current redistricting law is unfair and allows the party in power to make its own rules. Every time that happens, he said, the party in power serves only its own interests.

Ohio is traditionally a competitive state, so it stands to reason that it would have an even split of Democrat and Republican legislators. Realistically, the numbers are skewed strongly Republican, and that’s because of this redistricting, or gerrymandering, as it’s often called.

“We aren’t saying it has to be exactly 50-50, but what we don’t want is that it be drawn to produce something that would be very different from the popular vote,” Henkener said.

Gerrymandering involves two things: packing and cracking. Packing occurs when two opposition-heavy districts are mashed together. Cracking occurs when an opposition-heavy district is broken apart and split into areas where it will afford the opposition less effectual votes.

The process has gotten so out-of-hand that it reached the courts, Gildenblatt said.

“They were taken to court and, in court, not considered fair,” he said. “We’re stuck with them for this election because it was too late to redraw the district boundaries, the board decided.”

According to the Ohio Constitution, House districts must be “compact and composed of contiguous territory, and the boundary of each district shall be a single nonintersecting continuous line.” The districts drawn under the most recent legislature in Ohio met none of these requirements.

“If you look at a lot of congressional districts, compact is not a word you’d use to describe that,” Henkener said. “The gerrymandered districts right now — and the Democrats do this equally well — are probably going to produce a delegation of 75 percent Republicans and 25 percent Democrats.”

Henkener said when it comes down to brass tax, as long as politicians are able to make their own rules, it will be at the expense of voters. The Democrats opposed redistricting reform when they were in power and, should they retake it, will probably do it again.

“Play the game, win it fair and square,” Henkener said. “That’s fine. But don’t rig the deck.”

Contact Aaron Kinney at [email protected].