Ohio’s Chance for Reform

Issue 2 and the Problem of Redistricting

By Tommy Brown

Every 10 years, we witness one of the greatest crimes in politics. Following the census, each individual state reassesses their Congressional districts, growing and contracting them to fit population shifts. As innocent a process as it may sound, redistricting is rife with partisan motives across all states, and certainly both parties.

With an election in full swing, Ohio newspapers are flexing their journalistic muscles, endorsing candidates and issues across the board. Issue 2, in its diversity of support and opposition, is no exception. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Toledo Blade, and Athens News have come out in favor, the Columbus Dispatch and Canton Rep opposed. The Ohio Democratic Party is in favor, while the Ohio Republican Party is opposed. It is being pushed by the Ohio League of Women Voters, opposed by the Ohio State Bar Association and supported by the AFL-CIO.

It is clear that Issue 2 elicits strong opinions, as it should. At a time of steep partisan divide, in an essential swing state, there is a tangible feeling of discontentedness with government. As the pivotal example of political gaming, it should be no surprise that voters are taking issue with redistricting. It is a problem that few deny in our political system and, though Ohio is certainly not the worst case, it is clear that there must be a level of accountability in such a fragile and consequential process. I doubt there would be much support from voters to make it a more partisan process, but the question remains as to whether or not Issue 2 makes it a less partisan process. Each state’s approach to redistricting differs; Iowa, for instance, uses a nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency that only takes into account population shifts. Because the Agency only utilizes population data, it is seen by many as an example of a non-partisan redistricting process. Ohio, on the other hand, uses a commission of five elected officials: governor, state auditor, secretary of state and one member from each major party. In the current political environment of the state, that amounts to four members of one party and only one member of the minority party, a fact that, some complain, may make the process extremely politicized. Redistricting can make fundamental changes in a state’s electoral landscape and, if done largely at the behest of a single party, is vulnerable to manipulation.

Issue 2 is an attempt to address many of these problems, replacing the five-person panel with a commission of twelve Ohioans, four from each party and four independents. The general argument in favor of the constitutional amendment is that it removes elected officials and lobbyists from the process with the hope that this prevents invested political interests from influencing the commission’s decisions. The argument against the amendment is more nuanced, but most contend that while the process does need to change, Issue 2 is not the right approach. Complaints are many: the amendment requires the involvement of Ohio courts in such a political process, the branch most isolated from elected government. Moreover, despite the regretful politicization elected officials create over redistricting, voters are at least able to hold them accountable through ballot box and are not afforded the same check on the newly created commission.

Nuance and argument aside, Issue 2 raises an interesting point on political compromise. Though few authors attempt to persuade their readers that changing the redistricting process is without merit, the current process is widely accepted as fraud. Voters will face a decision in November: whether to take a chance at fixing the complexities of redistricting or to hold out for a more comprehensive solution.

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