Two Ohio State professors lead the initiative to reform Ohio’s congressional districts, after a Democratic district was lost in 2011.
Republicans redrew congressional district lines, which were approved in September, and opponents of the change said the lines were unfair.
Richard Gunther, a political sciences professor, and Dan Tokaji, a law professor, created a petition in conjunction with Voters First Initiative, a coalition of nonpartisan groups and people across Ohio fighting for voters. The petition would allow an independent committee to remap Ohio’s congressional districts free of partisan bias.
This independent committee would consist of 12 Ohio citizens: four Republicans, four Democrats and four from independent parties. If their petition gains 386,000 signatures by July 3, the issue will make it to the Nov. 6 Ohio election ballot. Gunther said if the proposal doesn’t make the ballot, Ohioans will be stuck with the 2011 districts until 2022.
Gunther said the 2011 map is unfair because politicians are the ones who redrew districts, and did so in favor of their personal party.
“The United States is the only democracy in the world that allows politicians to draw their own district boundaries and in doing so, they can stack the deck in favor of protecting incumbents and in favor of their own party,” Gunther said.
Gunther said none of the 16 congressional districts using the 2011 map would be competitive in an election.
“There are only three districts where the margin of victory, if people vote the way they have over the past four elections, is 8 percentage points or less,” Gunther said. “In fact, one district has a margin of victory of over 60 percentage points.”
Gunther said that means Ohio citizens cannot hold elected officials accountable because they’re protected by the district lines.
“As long as you have politicians drawing their own district boundaries, this will happen,” Gunther said. “Because this is literally like having the fox guarding the chicken coop.”
The petition has gained support from about 30 nonpartisan groups across Ohio, including League of Women Voters of Ohio, Ohio Citizen Action, Ohio Common Cause and We are Ohio Coalition.
Rep. Anne Gonzales, a Republican representing Ohio’s 19th House District, said she is aware the issue may be on the November ballot.
“If the signatures do get collected and the issue does go on the ballot, I’m going to support however the voters vote,” Gonzales said.
Gunther said another problem with the 2011 map is that they do not accurately reflect the preferences of Ohio’s voters.
“In this particular map, if people vote the way they have over the past several elections, there will be approximately 51 percent ballots cast for Republican candidates for Congress and with that, Republicans would win 75 percent of the seats,” Gunther said. “Figure that, 50 percent does not equal 75 percent.”
Rep. John Patrick Carney, a Democrat representing Ohio’s 22nd House District, voiced his support for redistricting.
“I am all for a more balanced legislature and a legislature that is not so polarized,” Carney said. “I think a nonpartisan legislature would benefit everyone.”
Gunther said the districts split up community representation.
“The map we have right now is one that brutally breaks up communities,” he said. “There are seven counties, including Franklin County, that are broken up into three or more congressional districts.”
Gunther said redrawing the lines would benefit Democrats and Republicans alike, because it would give both parties equal opportunities in every Ohio district.
“After doing a public opinion poll, we found widespread support for it,” Gunther said. “Even Republicans favor the issue two to one.”
In 2005, a similar Ohio ballot measure to create an independent commission whose priority was to make districts competitive failed. Gunther said he helped fight for that proposal as well, but now they are more prepared.
“This proposal is much better because it does not only focus on competitiveness,” he said. “Plus 2005 was an off-year for elections, which is why we’re bringing it about again.”
Gunther said the districts that were in place from 2002 to 2010 were biased, but not as biased as the 2011 remapping.
“The previous map was bad, but this is worse,” he said.
Gunther said the push for signatures has begun and he wants to get OSU students on board.
“The future of the quality of democracy for the state of Ohio depends on reforming our electoral system,” he said. “We have one chance at that and it is now.”