Home Opinion OPINION: Ohio citizens need to act on gerrymandering to see change

OPINION: Ohio citizens need to act on gerrymandering to see change

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United States House of Representatives chamber.

With only a 13 percent approval rating, opinion writer Ben Peters argues the electorate needs to put their forces behind congressional gerrymandering reform.

With a low approval rating, it’s clear that U.S. citizens want to see change in congress.

As of Dec. 5, Congress has a 13 percent approval rating. In what is supposed to be a representative democracy, these numbers are pitiful. It is clear that those in office are not representing the citizens whom they claim to represent.

The inevitable question in this situation is why citizens continue to elect these officials. In some states, the answer is simple—gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is when congressional district maps are drawn to favor one political party over another. Unfortunately, it seems that not enough citizens care or are even informed about the perils of gerrymandering, which results in the same incumbents being re-elected term after term.

In the case of the state of Ohio, the congressional map has been illustrated into literal absurdity. The districts are specifically drawn to keep Republicans at a 12:4 ratio to Democrats. Some districts extend almost halfway across the state. For example, Ohio’s 9th District stretches from parts of Cleveland all the way to Toledo, a nearly 120-mile horizontal distance. Citizens residing in Cleveland do not share the same political and economic concerns as those living in Toledo.

Ohio Congressional Districts 2012-2022. Ohio Secretary of State.
Ohio Congressional Districts 2012-2022. Ohio Secretary of State.

The maps are redrawn with each new census. The next redrawing will take place in 2021. Unlike many states, there are currently no rules set in place in the Ohio Constitution regarding the drawing of congressional districts. Currently, the map is to be approved by both houses of the General Assembly and the governor. This results in the majority party constantly being able to draw districts to purposefully target its base in order to earn re-election and remain in the majority.

In 2015, the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment was approved. The amendment called for a bipartisan group as opposed to the previous “partisan five-member board that included the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two members selected by the legislative leaders of the two major parties” to draw the state legislative map (not to be confused with the congressional district map). It appeared on the November 2015 ballot and passed with over 71 percent of voters in support.
There has been a petition circulating for years now by a group that goes by the name of Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio. Its members are calling to transfer the responsibility of redrawing congressional district lines to the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission (OBRC), the group tasked with redrawing the state legislative maps. This would be implemented in the form of an amendment to the Ohio Constitution.

The Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio petition requires 5 percent of the last gubernatorial vote in half of the 88 counties across the state in order to appear on the 2018 ballot. As of October 2017, the group has collected 160,000 signatures, about half of what its needs. On the map provided, Athens County interestingly has exceeded the organization’s goal of supporters at 326.3 percent. Franklin County follows behind in second with 290.2 percent. The petition must be submitted 125 days prior to election day. At this pace, it does not seem that the petition will be successful.

For an electorate this dissatisfied with our political system, one would think citizens should be jumping on any opportunity to reform redistricting in Ohio to prevent the status quo from persisting. They voted overwhelmingly for the OBRC to redraw the state legislative map, but not enough seem to care about the same issue at the federal level. What the electorate needs to understand is that maybe the solution to their dissatisfaction is right in front of them, they just need to act on it.

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