If you care about protecting the value of your vote in Ohio, you will vote for Issue 2, the constitutional amendment to reform the state's redistricting process. It will eliminate the so-called "winner-takes-all" system that has corrupted Ohio politics for decades.
The choice is easy. We can continue the existing rigged system where the party in power gets to ensure its candidates stay in power for another decade, or we can vote for Issue 2 and have an independent commission draw district lines for state legislators and members of Congress.
It's instructive to realize that the campaign to defeat redistricting reform is overwhelmingly comprised of Republican Party and allied interests who would have to cede much of their power under a fair system. They're scared to death of power-sharing in a state where the majority of the population does not reflect or support the increasingly extreme positions of the modern GOP.
The intensity of opponents' fear is reflected in the grossly misleading advertising campaign that's been mounted against Issue 2, the large amounts of special-interest money likely funding that campaign (the financial reports haven't been filed yet), and the failed efforts of the Republican-dominated Ohio Ballot Board to sabotage the constitutional amendment with prejudicial ballot language.
The way things work now, maps for state legislative and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years, after updated Census numbers are released. A five-member state Apportionment Board, whose members include the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and a legislator from each major party, draws the legislative districts. A simple majority wins any vote on the board, so the party that controls the board (Republican in recent years) has absolute control over how the legislative lines are drawn.
Lines for congressional districts are carved out by the state Legislature and then approved by the governor, and as with the state Apportionment Board, the Republicans dominate both those branches of government in Ohio.
Under Issue 2, both state legislative and congressional maps would be drawn by the 12-member Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission. The commission members would be selected through a multi-state process that begins with appellate judges selecting a 42-member pool of potential commission members, divided evenly between citizens from each major party and unaffiliated citizens. Eventually, that pool would be winnowed down to the final 12-member board, again with equal representation for the parties and unaffiliated.
Current and former legislators and members of Congress would not be eligible for the commission, nor would their employees, lobbyists, political donors and various other politically connected individuals.
The commission would then have to produce legislative and congressional maps that strive to satisfy four main criteria – preserving whole communities, maximizing the number of competitive districts, balancing the number of districts leaning toward one party or another to match political leanings among the state's population, and compactness.
While a somewhat complex process, the new redistricting system is designed to avoid favoring one party over another – exactly the opposite of the current system.
While some supporters of the status quo have suggested there's nothing wrong with the political victors getting the spoils by having the power to draw political lines in Ohio, there's plenty wrong with it, and the flaws extend far beyond having legislative bodies that are so badly out of synch with the political leanings of the people they're supposed to represent.
Columbus Dispatch senior editor Joe Hallett stated the case well in a column Sept. 16: "One-party rule through gerrymandering is one reason our government doesn't work as well as it should, because it thwarts competitive elections and empowers narrow-minded and uncompromising ideologues from the party in control."
This leads to a state Legislature that's much more conservative than the state that it writes laws for, and a U.S. Congress that's so polarized that if members from the separate parties aren't speaking different languages, they may as well be.
Opponents of Issue 2 – a redistricting plan originally commissioned by respected good-government groups (including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Ohio) – have tossed out a number of red herrings in arguing against it. For one thing, they argue that asking appellate judges to appoint redistricting commission members will violate the constitutional separation of powers.
However, these judges will play a limited role in screening potential commission members, a role that judges already play in any number of public commissions and boards.
Opponents also incorrectly charge that Issue 2 gives the redistricting commission an "open checkbook" of taxpayer funding, though this isn't even remotely true. The amendment merely requires the General Assembly to "adequately" fund the activities of the commission, a provision that's not unreasonable. One wonders how else a commission of this type might fund itself without money from the state. Lemonade sales? Raffles?
A good test for any critic of Issue 2 is to ask them to justify the status quo. How exactly does it serve democracy to perpetuate a system where one party can dominate state government for a decade, despite relative political parity among the state's population?
If they can't dredge up any outrage for what's a profoundly outrageous and undemocratic redistricting process, then they've lost the privilege to be taken seriously when criticizing Issue 2.
End the unacceptable status quo in Ohio, and vote yes on Issue 2. This might be Ohioans' last chance in many years to reform a fundamentally flawed redistricting process.