Today, the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio campaign expressed disappointment in announced details of a legislative reform proposal shared by members of the Congressional Redistricting Working Group.
While the working group has not introduced a proposal in final form, legislators presented the outline of a redistricting process that lacks a sufficient requirement for bipartisan approval and works to keep small counties whole while allowing unlimited splits of more populous counties. Instead of making meaningful progress toward more representative elections, preventing drawing districts to favor a party or candidate, this proposal could leave toss-up swing-state Ohio with a congressional delegation even more skewed toward the majority.
"The legislative working group should take seriously the widespread desire for an end to our current hyper-partisan system as expressed by the more than 191,000 Ohioans who have signed our petition," said Beth Taggart, League of Women Voters of Ohio Executive Director. "We hope that when a final proposal is introduced, it includes changes that will actually bring an end to partisan gerrymandering in congressional districts."
While Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima) referred to legislators' work as an extension of Issue 1, the comparison is discredited upon closer consideration; take provisions allowing communities to be split multiple times and using the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission as a backdoor for the legislature to set long-term district maps with a simple majority vote and token support from the minority party. "Ultimately, the General Assembly should back a truly open and bipartisan process instead of using the machinery established through state legislative redistricting reforms to undercut representational fairness," Taggart said.
Issues do not end with the convoluted mapmaking process that allows for a bypass of minority party input. While the "reforms" laid out in today's presentation include rules that could address criticism of bizarrely-shaped districts and other cosmetic issues, they would not result in districts that are any more fair. In fact, the district-drawing criteria may even encourage the "cracking" of urban areas, a characteristic of extreme gerrymandering.
"This presentation did not even include the words 'political party' or 'partisan,' and, as we know from current practice, ignoring this toxic partisanship is no way to address it," said Common Cause Executive Director Catherine Turcer. "The legislature should take heed of the federal court ruling in North Carolina striking down egregiously partisan congressional districts. It looks like the paralysis of the courts toward reining in this system of election-rigging may be coming to an end."
The Fair Districts campaign, led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Common Cause Ohio, and the Ohio Environmental Council, will continue collecting signatures to place the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio amendment on the November 2018 ballot. "Congressional redistricting reform should always focus on what's good for voters, and should be as simple as possible, like our one-page proposal building on what is already in the constitution," added Turcer. The measure is based on the overwhelmingly successful Issue 1, passed in 2015, which redesigned how district lines are drawn for the Ohio General Assembly. Both emphasize keeping communities together and decreasing opportunity for partisan gerrymandering.