For some Ohio voters, the importance of several state issues were lost in the haze left by the media’s coverage of Issue 3. However, one issue that passed last week was the product, in part, of an Ohio State professor’s decade-long effort.
Issue 1, which sought redistricting reform to protect against gerrymandering in Ohio, enjoyed strong bipartisan support and passed 71 to 29 percent, partially because of the efforts of Richard Gunther, a political science professor emeritus. The ultimate goal of Issue 1 was to make state Senate and state House elections more fair and competitive.
Gerrymandering is the drawing of districts to ensure one party’s victory over the other. Ohio’s gerrymandering has resulted in one of the country’s greatest Republican-Democrat discrepancies between the percentage of votes cast and percentage of seats held, according to a Princeton University study.
In 2012, Democratic candidates for the Ohio House received 55,000 more votes than Republican candidates, yet the latter won a supermajority; 60 of the 99 seats went to the right.
Two years later, partisan advantage one way or the other in 16 state House districts was so strong that the marginalized party did not even field a candidate.
The reason for this is because of the way Ohio district lines are drawn. The map splits up cities and counties, most obvious being the “snake by the lake,” a nickname for the 9th District. Running along Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland, the redistricting forced a primary between incumbent delegates Democratic representatives Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur.
Gunther first started working toward redistricting reform in 2005.
He was a part of the Reform Ohio Now initiative that attempted to pass redistricting reforms in 2005, 2010 and 2012.
“We were up against some pretty strong opposition,” Gunther said. “It’s very hard to convince voters in something as complex as redistricting reform, especially when you don’t have the money you need for an advertising campaign.”
Gunther continued his efforts, however, and joined four other negotiators to form a committee working toward this election cycle. Democratic Representative Vernon Sykes, former Republican Senator Jeff Jacobson, House Republican Legal Counsel Mike Lenzo and Democratic Legal Counsel Sarah Cherry were also on the committee.
“This round started out in an advantageous position because there were both Republicans and Democrats who were interested in bringing about reform,” Gunther said.
After building on a draft conceived with then-senator Jon Husted in 2009, the negotiators saw the bill pass the House, go through small revisions in the Senate and pass with a vote of 28-1.
“It’s not the maximal reform that some would have liked, but it certainly is a major improvement on what we had,” Gunther said. “I think it will drastically change the nature of electoral competition in the state legislature.”
Both representatives from the OSU College Democrats and Republicans said they supported the reform’s passage.
“It’s an improvement over our current system,” said Mircea Lazar, communications director for the OSU College Democrats and a third-year in international relations and economics. “Basically (in the old system), the minority party had no say, and the districts were created with intense levels of gerrymandering.”
The College Republicans tweeted their support for 1 on Election Day.
With Issue 1’s success, Gunther is already planning for action on redistricting reform for U.S. Congressional districts in the state.
“I was just on the phone this morning with my friends from Common Cause, and we are definitely going to be moving on this very quickly,” he said.
Lazar said the Democrats are not going to be satisfied with just this reform’s ratification, either.
“I think many College Dems think of this as more of a stepping stone instead of final product,” he said. “We’re happy that it passed, but we would like to build on the progress that it creates.”