Fairness and transparency are central components to successful public policy because these characteristics allow constituents to hold elected officials accountable. Accountability, in turn, encourages those officials to implement policy that advances the public interest.
Unfortunately, Ohio’s current state legislative reapportionment process is short on accountability. Over the past four decades, both political parties have drawn district lines to their benefit – regardless of whether those lines reflected Ohio’s actual population.
That reality could soon be part of a history lesson thanks to Issue 1. Last December, a nearly unanimous Ohio General Assembly voted to place a new, bipartisan redistricting plan before voters during the November 2015 election. That plan will be on the ballot next month as Issue 1 and, if passed by the voters, it will replace our current system with one that will create more equitable districts which mirror Ohio’s population.
On November 3rd, voters will have the opportunity to decide whether Issue 1 should be adopted, and I strongly encourage a ‘Yes’ vote.
Under the existing reapportionment system, the Ohio Apportionment Board redraws state legislative district lines after each decennial census. The Board is tasked with proposing new district maps for the state legislature, which it then approves by a majority vote. There are few options available to challenge questionable proposals.
Not surprisingly, this arrangement often leads to the adoption of the majority’s preferred districts, regardless of minority party input. The practical effect of this winner-take-all system is that state legislative districts are often not representative of individual communities or of the state as a whole.
Issue 1 proposes an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would replace the current partisan process with one that creates more compact and politically competitive General Assembly districts.
Under the new system, the Ohio Redistricting Commission would draw all of Ohio’s state legislative districts after each federal census beginning in 2021. The Commission’s membership would consist of the governor, the auditor of state, the secretary of state, and four members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the General Assembly.
A new General Assembly map would be effective for ten years if it receives a bipartisan majority vote of at least four members – two of those votes must come from the minority party. Any adopted plan lacking minority support would only be valid for four years, after which the Commission would redraw the lines.
The Ohio Supreme Court could also order the Commission to redraw any proposal which violates the requirements established by Issue 1.
Issue 1’s reforms are built around the fact that increased transparency and greater fairness lead to a more accountable system.
The Commission would be required to host at least three public meetings and broadcast each in a manner readily available to the public. Once a plan is adopted, the Commission would also provide a public statement explaining its decision.
These standards will require officials to open up the reapportionment process and justify their actions to the public.
Issue 1 places a similar emphasis on creating a more equitable system by emphasizing compact districts and bipartisanship.
It is not hard to find examples of district maps which split local communities for one reason or another; the Commission must end this practice wherever possible. Practically speaking, this rule will produce more compact districts and limit maps which are contorted to favor one party.
Issue 1’s strong focus on bipartisanship will also help ensure that everyone gets a fair shake. The Commission, for example, must have co-chairs of opposite parties to provide balanced leadership. This policy, along with the minority party vote requirements, will encourage mapmakers to draw districts that mirror voters’ preferences instead of their own.
In summary, Issue 1 is about creating the accountability needed to ensure responsible public policy, and is a worthwhile reform because it works to resolve these shortcomings in a bipartisan and constructive manner.
Please vote ‘Yes’ on Issue 1.
Keith Faber is the Senate President for the Ohio Senate. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.