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Bipartisan Redistricting Takes a Big Step Forward in Ohio

There is too much distrust of the electoral system and many reasons to account for why. But one of the causes we have heard more about over the past few years than any other is the way in which our country’s legislative districts are drawn. As of late last week when the Ohio legislature voted to put a truly bipartisan redistricting reform before its citizens as a referendum in the coming year, there is likely one fewer state subject to partisan redistricting for legislative districts.

For the past year and a half, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project has been working in Ohio on electoral reform issues including voter registration, provisional voting, and especially redistricting. Our work with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University has been focused on finding bipartisan solutions to election administration problems that both sides view as fair.

As the Commission on Political Reform pointed out in its June 2014 report, “America is rare among countries in that most of its 50 states draw legislative districts through the regular political process. That is, the legislators draw the districts in which they and their colleagues will compete. This overtly political process sows distrust among the electorate about the fairness of the districts as drawn and adds to the rancor between the political parties when one feels that the other is assigning lines that disadvantage their political opponents.”

The commission recommended that states adopt redistricting commissions that have the bipartisan support of the legislature and the electorate. Last week’s action in the Ohio legislature definitely has the bipartisan support of the legislature. Next up is the electorate with a referendum on the constitutional amendment next year.

Last Wednesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Moritz hosted an event at which Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted spoke candidly of his ten-year journey advocating for redistricting reform. At the event and during the last few hours of debate on the redistricting measure, Secretary Husted noted that “[i]t’s hard to get people to trust one another when they have very little experience in doing so.” Our hope is that both parties can use opportunities like redistricting reform to make the playing field a little fairer no matter who controls the levers of power.

Another panelist at our event, former Ohio state senator Mark Wagoner, Jr., noted that now was the time for Ohio to consider redistricting. He said that Ohio has “a unique window because we’re not certain as to who will control what in 2020.” It’s an opportunity that rings true in many other states ahead of the next cycle of redistricting.

Ohio’s measure only applies to state legislative districts and not to congressional districts. This is a great first step for the legislature to have made. Still, I believe that this action should only be considered step one and that we see action to bring bipartisanship to congressional redistricting in Ohio before the 2020 cycle.

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