Ohioans will vote May 8 on Issue 1, a plan to change the way Congressional districts are drawn in Ohio. The state is considered one of the most gerrymandered in the United States.
“Right now, one party does the mapmaking,” says Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, one of the citizen groups that created the plan with lawmakers. In the past, that’s led to the Republican domination of Congressional seats.
To stop that, Issue 1 creates a bipartisan process for redrawing districts. Turcer talked to WKSU’s Jeff St. Clair about how the proposal works and the fight against gerrymandering in Ohio.
Jeff St. Clair: Why did we need to change the way Ohio’s citizens are represented in Washington?
Catherine Turcer: Right now, one party does the mapmaking. It can be the Democratic Party, or it can be the Republican Party, it doesn’t really matter, what happens is that one party marginalizes the other. What happened in 2011 is that the Republicans were in charge and they marginalized the Democratic Party. And there are now 4 Democratic seats and 12 Republican seats.
And what’s really sad about that is, we know from public records that the mapmakers said, ‘Hey these are the 12 Republican seats, these are the four Democratic ones.’ And cycle after cycle, the prediction that those mapmakers made was absolutely correct. In fact, these seats are so incredibly safe that in 2016 the average win was by 36 points. It’s incredible hard to hold these folks accountable.
Jeff St. Clair: What does Issue 1 do to change the gerrymandering that we have?
Catherine Turcer: Issue 1 has bipartisan mapmaking. It includes greater transparency, so that in fact, there are public hearings. There’s an opportunity between the hearings so that people can actually participate.
This becomes important because, for example in 2011 especially, the kind of shenanigans that they engaged in gave us Jim Jordan’s Fourth District. It’s shaped like a duck, stretching from nearly the Indiana border to a state prison east of Oberlin. And it works its way down so the tail feathers are shaking in Mercer County.
One of the things that Issue 1 does that is really important is that it focuses on bigger building blocks, saying 65 of the 88 counties must be kept whole.
Jeff St. Clair: Does Issue 1 take the politics out of drawing districts?
Catherine Turcer: No. But citizen voices are part of the process. First of all, the state legislature would have paid no attention whatsoever to what is a fundamental flaw in elections if it hadn’t been for voters all over the state of Ohio coming together and a variety of groups coming together saying we’re going to use people power to get these folks to move.
The thing to remember that in 2015, when we passed state legislative redistricting reform, we asked, 'If the Statehouse folks actually believe that state legislative elections should be fairer, why are they not moving on Congressional redistricting reform?' And there’s a real power in moving the state legislature because of citizen action.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio has worked on this for 40 years and was able to get together with other organizations and actually move the state legislature to take action, not just once on state redistricting reform, but then on Congress. Issue 1 does not take politics out of redistricting. It is impossible to take politics out of politics. (But) it is possible to establish some good rules.
It is possible to establish transparency. It is possible to invite the public to participate in a more meaningful way. It is possible to make the rules fair. It is possible to focus on keeping communities together. It is not possible to remove politics from an essentially political life.
I also believe it will take many of us paying a lot of attention during the 2021 mapmaking for this process to work.