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Ohio Voters Approve State Legislative Redistricting Reform

By Michael Thorning

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

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The political parties do not trust one another when it comes to drawing the congressional and legislative district lines in which legislators run for office. All too often one party is able to game the system to its advantage and the opposing party’s detriment. In all of the political maneuvering, it is the voters who lose as more and more are disenchanted by a process they perceive as not working for them.

There are fairer ways to redistrict. Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure aimed at making redistricting a more inclusive, bipartisan process. In doing so, the state has set itself up as a model for others to consider.

The ballot measure amends the Ohio Constitution to reassign responsibility for drawing state legislative districts to a newly-created bipartisan commission. The new commission will ensure that members of both parties are represented in the redistricting process and that approval of any plan will require a nontrivial level of bipartisan support. The proposal was passed in 2014 by both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. It does not apply to congressional districts.


ohio-house-districtsohio-senate-districts

Maps courtesy of the Ohio Department of State

Other states whose leaders have called for redistricting reform—such as Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina—should look to Ohio as a model for how bipartisan reform can ensure political boundaries are drawn more fairly.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project has worked actively in Ohio on various electoral reform issues including redistricting. In December 2014, just before the Ohio General Assembly passed the measure voters approved Tuesday, BPC hosted an event on redistricting with the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University.

At the event, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and former State Sen. Mark Wagoner, Jr., among others, voiced their very strong support for reform. “My argument has always been: just be fair about it,” Husted said, “so that no matter who is in charge, everybody has got an equal shot at winning based on the quality of their ideas, their candidates, their organization, and the will of the voters.”

BPC’s Commission on Political Reform in its report, released in June 2014, recommends states adopt redistricting commissions that have the support of the legislators and voters of both parties. Describing the need for this type of reform, the commission said:

It is important to decrease the realpolitik nature of drawing the lines for the House of Representatives and state legislatures and to encourage a broader, more inclusive process that reduces the chance for perceptions that one party was able to disadvantage the other. Redistricting commissions necessarily require more interparty discussion and deliberation and limit the opportunities for outcomes that are viewed as unfair.

Previously in Ohio, lines were drawn by the Ohio Apportionment Board, made up of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, and two general assembly members—one appointed by each party’s legislative leaders. Plans could be approved by a simple majority of the board with no requirement for bipartisan agreement. If one party controlled the executive branch offices, it controlled the redistricting process.

Under the new system, the board will still consist of the governor, state auditor, and secretary of state, but will now include four general assembly members—two from the majority party and two from the minority party. Importantly, redistricting plans will now require a bipartisan vote of four members to remain permanent for ten years. Otherwise, plans passed by a simple majority without bipartisan support will last only for two years.

This reform is a step in the right direction for Ohio and in line with the commission’s recommendations. Importantly, it is an example of how Republicans and Democrats can mutually agree to disarm around one of the most contentious issues in our political system.

KEYWORDS: REDISTRICTING