The 2014 mid-term elections have made allies of opposing political players, with both calling on the Ohio General Assembly to make redistricting reform a top priority.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, Opportunity Ohio CEO Matt Mayer and ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis agree that the always thorny and usually hyper-partisan subject of drawing legislative district maps is broken and needs fixing to be fair to voters.
“With voter turnout at record low levels, it is clear the dark art of drawing Ohio’s legislative maps in partisan self-interest is turning off voters, and we urge lawmakers to adopt meaningful redistricting reform by June 2015,” Mayer and Theis said. Opportunity Ohio is a free market think tank and ProgressOhio is the state’s largest progressive advocacy organization.
The duo said reform must eliminate the gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts, which they believe is more about empowering political parties and less about empowering voters. Additionally, Mayer and Theis argue the reforms must result in maps that preserve communities of interest and reflect the political balance of our swing state by maximizing the number of competitive seats to the highest degree possible. “These two key outcomes will increase the relevance of general elections and make elected officials more accountable to their constituents,” they said in prepared remarks.
Unlike the process conducted in 2010 by Republicans who won all statewide seats, including the offices that control the Ohio Apportionment Board, that produced the districts in question, any process of drawing maps going forward must be open and transparent and include a ban on drawing districts to favor or disfavor a political party, incumbent or potential candidate.
“Ohioans, no matter their political affiliations, deserve a level playing field when it comes to how and who gets elected to represent them,” they said.
Meanwhile, Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters released an analysis Tuesday that shows Ohio’s system of electing members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Ohio General Assembly is badly broken, and the groups outlined a framework for redistricting reform.
In their release today, Common Cause Ohio (CCO) and the League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVO) noted that in nearly every race for the US House of Representatives and the Ohio General Assembly, the winner was from the political party favored by the gerrymandered districts. The groups’ study highlights how gerrymandered district lines create uncompetitive races and amplifies the crucial need for reform.
CCO and LWVO offered the following observations:
- Predicted partisan percentages (known as partisan indexes) of both the Ohio Senate districts and the US House districts perfectly predicted the winners, based on political party.
- Partisan leaning also predicted the results of 96 out of 99 Ohio House races.
- Four of the Ohio Senate winners (23%) faced no opponent in the general election, and 14 of the Ohio House winners (14%) faced no opponent. One U.S. Congressman, Bob Gibbs, also faced no opponent.
“Our winner-take-all system of drawing district lines means that the voters lose, because the results are predetermined long before voters cast their ballots. We need a fairer system now,” Ann Henkener of the League of Women Voters of Ohio said. She continued, “District lines manipulate the voters and their vote, and Ohioans deserve better. Elections should reflect the will of the people, rather than partisan map-making,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio. “This analysis highlights the pressing need to create a fair system.” This preliminary analysis of 2014 election results follows LWVO’s report on the 2012 election, Predictable Results: A Report from the League of Women Voters of Ohio Examining 2011 Gerrymandering and 2012 Election Results. Once the final, official 2014 election results are released by the Secretary of State, LWVO and CCO will issue a comprehensive report analyzing both the 2012 and 2014 races.
In recent weeks, the Ohio Legislature and Constitutional Modernization Commission have been hearing competing proposals for reforming Ohio’s redistricting process. LWVO and CCO strongly suggest that any proposal include the following best practices:
Establish a genuinely bipartisan panel of map-makers – The entity responsible for drawing new congressional and state legislative district lines must be genuinely bipartisan or nonpartisan. In a bipartisan panel, at least one member of the minor party must agree to procedural rules governing the panel’s operation and sign off on the plan for it to take effect.
Preserve Communities – Legislative districts should not unnecessarily split political subdivisions such as counties, municipalities, townships, and wards. Detailed instructions on the order in which political subdivisions must be combined and divided are especially important, if other constraints are lacking.
Explicit Prohibition on Favoritism – There must be an express prohibition on any district or plan being drawn to favor or disfavor a political party, incumbent, or potential candidate.
Ensure Transparency & Public Participation – Statewide hearings need to be held before and after the introduction of a proposed plan to allow for meaningful public input before enactment. The public must be given adequate time to review a proposed plan before public hearings at which that plan is considered. Before final approval of a specific plan, the public must have the opportunity to comment on that specific plan. All meetings, documents, and activities of the Redistricting Commission must be public.