Voting Rights

Making Your Vote Count: Fair Districts Ohio Ballot Initiative

08.18.15

Every 10 years, the federal government carries out a census that leads to the redrawing of congressional and state legislative lines to take population changes into account. However, every state has its own procedure for redrawing these lines. There are some requirements, like districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

How Ohio Does It Now

The Ohio General Assembly redraws the congressional lines, subject to gubernatorial veto. On the other hand, the Apportionment Board is responsible for redrawing the state legislative lines. The political commission consists of five-members: the governor, the secretary of state, the auditor, a commission member appointed by the speaker of the Ohio House, and a commission member from the minority political party recommended by the House minority leader.
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The method of redrawing lines in Ohio often leads to gerrymandered districts—the manipulation of district boundaries that favors one party over another. If one party has control of the Ohio General Assembly, and the Executive Branch, the voice of the minority party is sidelined.

After the 2010 U.S. Census, Republicans controlled both houses of the general assembly, as well as the Executive Branch. Republicans packed the Democrats into four congressional districts while giving themselves 12 congressional districts.

Gerrymandering is a serious threat to the civil liberties of Ohioans. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the power at the state level was more equitable between both Democrats and Republicans. Since the 2000s, Republicans have controlled all three branches of Ohio. Republicans gained control and redrew the lines to keep returning their majority delegations to Columbus and Washington. In the last two elections, Republicans got 75 percent of the congressional seats in Ohio, with just 55 percent of the vote. Therefore, gerrymandering results in unfair and unequal representation, shuts out the minority voice, and undermines the value of one’s vote.

A Possible Solution to Gerrymandering

The Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment 2015, now known as the Fair Districts for Ohio ballot initiative, is a possible solution to the problem of gerrymandering state legislative districts. Both the Ohio House and Senate approved the amendment with bipartisan support to appear on the ballot as Issue One in the general election on November 3, 2015. If the majority of people vote in favor of Issue One, it would go into effect on January 1, 2021. It’s important to note that Issue One only applies to state legislative districts and not congressional districts.

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Issue One would replace the Apportionment Board with the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC). With the current setup of the Apportionment Board, the minority party is represented, but outnumbered if the other party controls all three branches of state government. The ORC would consist of seven members: the governor, the auditor, the secretary of state and four people appointed by both the majority and minority leaders in the General Assembly.

Issue One proposes several mechanisms that will prevent one party from hijacking the process and will give Ohioans an opportunity to voice their concerns, including:

  • If officials are unable to approve a plan by the deadline, the governor, the auditor, and the secretary of state can create their own plan with a simple majority vote; however, the redistricting plan will only go into effect for four years, with the commission reconvening to redraw the map.
  • If the redistricting plan is found unconstitutional in court, the commission will have to reconvene and create a new redistricting plan before the next election.
  • Officials have to hold at least three public meetings before voting on the plan.