Have you ever wondered why Ohio, held up as the quintessential swing state, has a General Assembly that is dominated by one party? The answer, at least in part, has to do with the state’s method for drawing its state house districts. Issue 1 looks to change that process, which is currently undertaken by the state legislature. The proposed amendment, drawn up by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would instead make redistricting the domain of a seven-member panel including the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor and two state lawmakers from each party. Maps drawn by the proposed Ohio Redistricting Commission would need at least two votes from the minority party’s representatives or they would expire in four years instead of 10. There would also be much more opportunity for public input under the proposed amendment.Many lawmakers and political commentators believe Ohio’s current redistricting system has become hyper-partisan and not representative of Ohio’s actual political makeup, and we agree.
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To whit: even though the state splits nearly evenly in presidential contests and went to Democrat Barack Obama in the last two elections, our state house is 67-percent Republican — and those are the same lawmakers who draw up the districts. That’s not a coincidence. It’s been true for years and would also be true if Democrats were in power and able to draw the map.
Under the current process in the state house, the the party in power is able to isolate voters who support the opposing party into a few awkwardly drawn districts, consolidating the number of districts it can safely win for itself in basically uncontested elections. This creates a stage on which party primaries become the deciding ground for who represents a district, and these primaries generally draw more partisan and hardline voters who pick candidates on the ideological edges of their parties.The upshot of this imbalance is that Ohio’s State House has become a factory for radically conservative legislation, pumping out some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, for example. Those laws look likely to shut down Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortion services, making our metropolitan area the largest in the country without direct access to those services. It’s clear that so-called gerrymandering of state representative districts has tilted the scales in Ohio, and it’s time to balance them again. Though it’s not perfect, and still gives perhaps too much power to a single party in its current iteration, the proposed amendment is a marked improvement over Ohio’s current system. That’s why CityBeat supports Issue 1.