ASHTABULA — A state-level group working to end gerrymandering in Ohio congressional districts hosted an informational session this week on the upcoming May 8 ballot’s Issue 1, which would make the redistricting process a “bipartisan” effort.
“Gerrymandering” is the process by which political parties draw or adjust the boundaries of congressional districts by party-registered voters, in order to gain unfair advantage at the polls.
“It’s cheating. Fundamentally, it’s cheating,” Sue Dean-Dyke, a volunteer for Fair Districts Ohio, said during a county League of Women Voters session Tuesday at the Ashtabula County Library. “It’s basically politicians picking their voters. ... It creates districts that are not competitive.”
Of the nation’s 435 congressional seats — which are created by census population figures — Fair Districts Ohio estimates only 50 are actually competitive, Dean-Dyke said. In recent state ballots, the closest Ohio race was won by 19 points, but the average was closer to 30 points, she said.
Not one Ohio congressional district — 12 red, four blue — has changed political parties since the most recent district map was enacted in 2012, Dean-Syke said. Prior, and as far back as 1972, Ohio districts have swapped sides at least once within three years of a new district map, according to data research by Cleveland.com.
“Your representative does not have to listen to anybody but their base — or their donors,” Dean-Dyke said.
If passed, Issue 1 would require bipartisan and public input on how legislative districts are drawn — limiting splits in counties, cities and townships — and require votes from both parties to adopt new maps for a 10-year period.
The measure would also create a schedule of at least two public hearings on proposed district boundary changes, and allow residents to propose their own maps.
“I think the important thing here is that the paradigm has changed; the dynamics have changed from 200 years ago. We’ve made government and participation more inclusive,” said Duane Feher, county Board of Elections director and chairman of the county Democratic Party, who attended the Tuesday session.
He said a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing “unlimited” cash contributions to political campaigns has also informed how districts are drawn, leaving only the most flush hopefuls able to compete in districts that include several different media markets.
“This bill will provide for better representation; responsible and accountable representation, where (candidates) have to come back and listen to the voters and not have to worry about money contributors or private interest groups.”
The next district map is set to take effect in 2022, following the 2020 census population update. Though the Issue 1 amendment would take effect immediately, its attached article won’t become law until 2021.
Issue 1 is the only statewide issue on the primary ballot, amongst a host of 11 other local issues — one of the shortest issues ballots in some time, Feher said.
While primary elections traditionally have low turnout, league members noted the May ballot features a contentious income tax levy on behalf of Geneva Area City Schools.
While the Issue 1 has bipartisan support, the nonprofit has been circulating petitions
for a future initiative should it fail May 8. The group needs
signatures from 5 percent of voters in half of the state’s 88
counties. As of February, the group had hit that mark in most of the 44 counties needed, though it only had about one-fifth of the signatures needed in Ashtabula County.
“We’re really going to need help here in Ashtabula,” Dean-Dyke said.
To volunteer to collect signatures, visit fairdistrictsohio.org/collect-signatures.