Gerrymandering is anti-democratic. It encroaches on some of the most fundamental and basic principles of democracy, 2018 Ohio Auditor candidate Zack Space told Plunderbund in a sit-down interview Friday.
In an act of immense political bravery and honesty, Space is basing his campaign for auditor on speaking the truth against two of the most serious ills plaguing American democracy today: Gerrymandering and the corrupt influence of money in politics. In a series of articles over the next several days, Plunderbund will explore these topics with Space.
The Ohio Auditor is one of three statewide officers who sit at the redistricting table following the U.S. Census every ten years. The others are the Ohio Secretary of State and Ohio Governor. This makes 2018 a critical election year in Ohio as all statewide offices are up for election in open races.
Whoever wins in 2018 will get to help decide how the lines are drawn after the 2020 Census, and whether Ohio will continue down the road of gerrymandering, or return power to the voters with fair districts.
Gerrymandering is what happens when political parties draw legislative districts in order to predetermine outcomes in favor of themselves. It’s like allowing the team with the lead in a football game to determine the size of the end zones: You end up with one team with a 40-yard endzone and the other with a 10-yard endzone. Who do you think’s going to win?
As Space points out, the act of gerrymandering robs the voters of their political power – the primary source of political agency in a democratic constitutional republic.
“Gerrymandering’s immediate and most obvious effect is to disenfranchise voters,” he said. “You allow legislators to select voters as opposed to voters selecting legislators.”
This creates a situation in which the results – particularly in general elections – are predetermined, and that’s a form of disenfranchisement, Space said.
“Beyond that, I think it creates apathy. When people know that their vote doesn’t matter, they’re much less likely to go to the polls to vote,” he said. “And people do know. There is a growing social awareness of gerrymandering and the impact that it has on elections.”
Gerrymandering has another consequence that is much more insidious and indeed poisonous to political discourse, Space observed. This force has rendered government essentially incapable of making important decisions in a world full of profound challenges, he said.
“It has created this polarization effect where your only political vulnerability is to your right in a primary if you’re a Republican and to the left in a primary if you’re a Democrat,” he said. “It forces politicians to the extremes and it renders the ability to compromise, to negotiate, or moderate impossible.”
This again is another form of disenfranchisement, Space said.
“I think most Ohioans, most Americans, would categorize themselves somewhere relatively close to the ideological center, maybe a little left, maybe a little right,” he said. “They are chronically underrepresented because of the way gerrymandering polarizes our community.”
This has birthed a new era of division in American politics where government has become an active participant in the very divisiveness wrecking society, he said.
“At a moment in time where we so desperately need to come together in unity, government – at least the structure of government – is actively conspiring to divide us even further,” he said. “It needs to stop.”
Space has been on the fall dinner circuit for local county parties, speaking almost exclusively this past month to Democratic crowds, but he’s being honest with them, he said.
“I tell them, look, if I’m at that redistricting commission table in 2021, as proud as I am to be a Democrat, I’m not going to be there representing the Democratic Party,” he said. “I’m going to be there representing the people of Ohio who have not had a seat at that table in a generation now.”
Space said his mind is made up: He’s going to do everything he can to draw district lines in Ohio in ways that make sense.
“A lot of different factors should go into how these lines are drawn: Geographic consistency, cultural consistency, economic consistency,” he said. “Political gain is not one of the factors that will be considered.”
The ramifications of the 2018 election on the drawing of these district lines are enormous, Space said.
“It will impact every issue that is important to virtually every Ohioan, whether it relates to how public education is funded and overseen, access to health care, whether workers will have any say whatsoever in the employer-employee relationship,” he said. “There is a lot on the line.”
Every year voters hear how important that year’s election is, but in Ohio in 2018, Space said he really believes it.
“I think this is a seminal election, and every Ohioan should be concerned,” he said. “My hope is that every Ohioan educates themselves on the candidates and issues up and down the ballot and that every Ohioan shows up and demonstrates the true tenor and meaning and import of democracy. Because their democracy is under threat right now.”