LORAIN — All of Ohio’s congressional seats were won with at least 59 percent of the vote in 2016, an effect of gerrymandered districts, but Issue 1 seeks to change that.
Lorain City Democratic Party Chairman Paul Adams said the party was hosting a forum on the issue Tuesday night because it wanted to inform residents about what it actually means for the state.
“But I think it’s important that those of us who are involved understand the details of what it all means,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘Gerrymandering is bad and Issue 1 is going to fix that?’ Well, yes we agree with that so how exactly does that all work?”
Ohio Environmental Council Vice President of Public Affairs Aryeh Alex said his organization became involved in the issue because gerrymandering has made their job virtually impossible at the state and federal level.
“Protecting our natural resources, our drinking water and park, should not be a partisan issue and what gerrymandering has done is made this issue liberal and super partisan,” he said. “So the Environmental Council said we’re not going to keep winning spending millions of dollars trying to get folks to care about our issues in gerrymandered seats because they’re not beholden to the voters in their districts anymore. They’re beholden to the people who bought their districts.”
Alex said the proposed legislation, which also was spearheaded by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, has the support of both state parties and has several sets of checks and balances built in.
Alex said there are several “silos” to the redistricting to ensure it’s fair and balanced — the first is the Ohio General Assembly gets to take a crack at drawing the congressional lines but only after seeking citizen input and going through the committee process. From there, it must be approved by a majority of both parties in both chambers.
“That is a huge step forward. It’s not you need a majority of the vote,” he said. “It’s that you need a majority of both parties. If the controlling party can’t get enough of those majority party votes, it then moves to the next silo.”
From there, Alex said, it goes to the redistricting commission, which is made up of the governor, the auditor, the secretary of state and the majority and minority leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly and is usually tasked with redistricting the General Assembly’s districts.
“They key part here is there has to be two minority votes to pass it in this form,” he said. “So if the Democrats control all statewide offices and both chambers of the house so the two Republican minority leaders have to support it or it doesn’t move forward.”
Alex said if the districts aren’t approved by the commission, the General Assembly gets another attempt at drawing and approving the lines and only requiring a simple majority. However, if the districts can’t be approved before the third silo, they must be redrawn after four years, in hopes that there will be enough turnover in the General Assembly to break the gridlock.
The legislation would take effect in 2021, after the 2020 census has finished to determine the number of representatives for each state in the 2022 elections.
County Commissioner Matt Lundy said he was in the General Assembly when the districts were redrawn for the 2012 elections, and there were cities that were carved apart to make them more desirable for one party or the other.
The commissioner also spoke about an issue that will be on the ballot in November — a county government reform measure that would remove the three current county commissioners and replace them with seven commissioners, each from a different district in the county.
“It seems odd in a year where we’re trying to address gerrymandering that we bring up what’s basically going to be gerrymandering at the local level so I hope the voters won’t be misled,” he said. “I mean when you look at this plan how are they going to pay for it? People always say we have too many politicians but now there’s going to be seven commissioners instead of three.”
Lundy also pointed out five currently elected positions will become appointed under the proposed legislation, which removes a level of accountability.
Lorain City Councilman Joe Koziura, D-at large, said he believes the real issue with those supporting the county government reform lies in the townships.
“Townships have been complaining about not having a voice but most of the efforts on the board of commissioners is really in unincorporated areas,” he said. “They benefit the most with the sheriff’s (office), the engineering office who does the streets. This is under the guise of good government.”
Adams said when it comes down to it, gerrymandering districts is harmful because it places more pressure on primary races, causing candidates to go too far to the right or to the left causing extreme politics.
“Also when we gerrymander districts we are literally taking away someone’s right to vote because we are creating districts that a Democrat or Republican might not run in and then come November there’s not a real choice for the people who are independents or people who are in the party that the district has been gerrymandered against,” he said.
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