Ohio’s ‘fair’ elections question
This year, a group of Democrats, unions, progressive groups and the League of Women Voters (operating under the title Voters First Ohio) has promoted a run at the Ohio Constitution to mitigate the influence of voters who have tended to vote mostly Republican in state elections in the last few years; allowing the GOP to draw the lines for congressional districts and to control the board that draws legislative districts, as well.
The endorsements range from the AFL-CIO and SEIU to Planned Parenthood, the Ohio NAACP, the Ohio Council of Churches, the Children’s Defense Fund, the American Association of University Women and marijuana activists. The Ohio League of Women Voters started working toward a constitutional amendment in the 70s, and organized campaigns to get a ballot proposal to redistrict “impartially” in 1999 and again in 2005.
Back in 2010, Secretary of State Jon Husted was a state senator, and sponsor of a reform plan for drawing congressional and legislative boundaries that passed the Senate and died in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. The outcome of the election and control of the process was still very much in doubt, and some key Republicans were willing to try something new, but the Democrats believed that they could take control and would not engage. Failing to gain control, now they want “fairness” and they want it in the state constitution.
Notwithstanding an aggrieved party’s ability to bring a lawsuit under both state and federal law and constitutions if the districts don’t conform to the prescribed populations and definitions of compactness, etc., Voters First Ohio wants to make the process free from political influence, by formation of “politically balanced districts.”
The constitutional amendment that would be voted on in Ohio starting next week eliminates line-drawing processes for both the congressional and legislative districts in favor of a citizens commission composed of four Republicans, four Democrats, and four “independents.” Seven votes would be required for approval of any redistricting plan. Republicans and the Ohio State Bar Association oppose putting an Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission into the state constitution.
The Republican party mailer suggests that some members of the proposed commission will be chosen in secret, and that there is no process for removing them, even if they commit felonies. The opposition campaign also maintains that there are no controls over how much money they can spend. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled a couple of weeks back that the summary ballot language approved by a partisan vote of the Ohio Ballot Board contained enough “material omissions and factual inaccuracies” that doomed its chance for approval.
A day later, the Ohio Ballot board approved new summary language that includes, verbatim, several sections from the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment. Ironically, Democrats and their political allies now assert that large volumes of the actual proposed constitutional language would confuse voters, and that Republicans have switched “misleading” language “for a mash of perplexing verbiage.”
I like the idea of world peace. I like the idea of fair taxes. I welcome an American political landscape built on competitive districts.
On the other hand, I hardly ever vote for constitutional amendments, because they are so hard to fix if the authors and the majority of voters gets it wrong. They mostly go against my vision of representative democracy. I do not usually support anything called “fair’ which is proposed by one side of the aisle and vehemently opposed by the other, unless I am clearly in the advantaged group.
In the case of constitutional amendments, I somewhat doubt that this would include any of us.