Redistricting Reform Wins, Republicans Lose in Court

Ohioans will choose whether or not to pass redistricting amendment Issue 2 in November, and the Ohio Supreme Court says Secretary of State Jon Husted needs to make the ballot language more clear for voters. In a bit of a surprise, the Ohio Supreme Court

Ohioans will choose whether or not to pass redistricting amendment Issue 2 in November, and the Ohio Supreme Court says Secretary of State Jon Husted needs to make the ballot language more clear for voters. In a bit of a surprise, the Ohio Supreme Court on Sept. 12 ruled against Husted’s ballot language, which was approved by the Ballot Board chaired by Husted, stating that it contained “material omissions and factual inaccuracies.”

A day after the ruling, Husted held an emergency Ballot Board meeting to fix the summary language. The new language was required by the Supreme Court to tell voters how members of the independent citizens commission would be chosen, how the commission would be funded and the guidelines for redistricting enforced by the amendment. Husted and Republicans on the board claimed they followed the new requirements by using the exact language from the redistricting amendment’s proposal. But Democrats on the Ballot Board opposed the new language because they said it was too technical and confusing.

If approved by voters on Nov. 6, Issue 2 will place the redistricting process in the hands of an independent citizens commission. Elected state officials currently control the process, and they use the process in politically advantageous ways. As part of Ohio’s redistricting process in 2010, the Republican majority redrew Ohio’s First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, to include Warren County. The new borders include fewer urban voters, who tend to side with Democrats, and more rural voters, who tend to side with Republicans.

The example of Ohio’s First Congressional District shows how the redistricting process has failed its goal of redrawing boundaries to match population trends. There is no population-based justification for Cincinnati’s district twisting around Butler County and suburbs in Hamilton County to grab all of Warren County, which is not considered part of Greater Cincinnati. That does not serve the populations or interests of urban Cincinnati or rural Warren County. Instead of redrawing borders to fit new population trends every 10 years, politicians redraw district borders to make political campaigns easier for 10 years.

Husted has admitted this in the past. In February, he endorsed redistricting reform in the Ohio legislature and told reporters it was good for “freedom and democracy.” The plan from the legislature, which used a more bipartisan commission instead of an independent citizens commission, fell through in the face of Issue 2.

Conservatives have cooled on redistricting reform since then. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber came out against Issue 2 on Sept. 11. In a statement containing all the chamber’s positions for Ohio’s 2012 ballot issues, the chamber wrote, “If passed, Issue 2 would replace elected officials with an unelected, unaccountable, citizen commission with unlimited funds to redraw congressional and General Assembly district lines, while excluding some Ohioans from serving on the commission.”

It is true Issue 2 is replacing elected officials. That’s the entire point. The premise of Issue 2 is that elected officials have proven time and time again they can’t handle the responsibility of redrawing district boundaries. 

And the Ohioans excluded are former and current politicians and lobbyists. Again, the same people who have proven they can’t handle the responsibility of the redistricting process.

A graph released by Voters First on Sept. 5 demonstrated politicians’ lack of respect for the process. The graph includes an email exchange between Tom Whatman, a staffer for U.S. Speaker John Boehner, and Adam Kincaid, a staffer for the Republican Congressional Committee who helped redraw Ohio’s districts. In the back-and-forth, Whatman asks for a “small carve out” to include a manufacturing business in the congressional district for Rep. Jim Renacci, a Republican who has received support from the business in the past. Before 13 minutes passed, Kincaid replied to Whatman, securing the change with absolutely no questions asked. Voters First mockingly titled the graph “Jim Renacci: The 13 Minute Man.” 

The examples of twisted maps and careless politicians are what led Voters First to push for a redistricting amendment. Similar examples led Florida, Iowa and Maine to embrace independent citizen commissions for redistricting. Other examples of partisan abuse convinced Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington to appoint independent bipartisan commissions for the redistricting process.

The many examples are also what led Husted, who was discussing redistricting reform with reporters in February, to say, “It’s time for change.” Apparently, that time has now passed for Husted.

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: [email protected] or @germanrlopez

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