Redistricting Proposal Has Bipartisan Support Now But Will The Plan Change In The Future?

Dec 8, 2014

A bill that’s passed the Ohio House is providing some hope to people who have been critical of the process of drawing lines for legislative districts. 

Studies repeatedly show the way those lines are drawn has a lot to do with which candidates are elected to statewide office. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on why some people who have been critical of this process are now cautiously optimistic.

A recent analysis by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters showed the partisan advantage achieved by the party that drew the current map was the predictor of the winner in 96 out of 99 districts.  Similar results have come from other studies. And that’s why some of the advocates for redistricting reform are encouraged by a new house passed bill that is receiving bipartisan support.  Common Causes’ Catherine Turcer says she was surprised.

Turcer – In fact I kind of wondered if pigs were flying around the Statehouse.

Republican Representative Matt Huffman, a sponsor of the bill, says a key part of the plan is to give the party in charge a reason to want to come up with one that has bipartisan support.

Huffman We want to make sure draw a map that the minority can approve of because that’s a ten year map. That’s the least chaotic part of this thing.  But if they can’t, the map the majority approves is only good for the next two election cycles.  Now that is a disincentive because the majority would like to have a ten year map and we know that the next four year cycle, we may have a different set of statewide officers.

So, in other words, if Republicans dominate the legislature when the map is drawn, they can’t draw it to alienate Democrats or the map would have to be drawn again in four years…when Democrats might be in charge of the map drawing process.  Democratic Representative Vernon Sykes joined Huffman in cosponsoring the bill. Sykes says it spells out better criteria that must be used in the process. 

Sykes – There were a lot of compromises and significant struggle but we have now, for the first time, some enforceable criteria that courts and judges can use to evaluate plans to make sure that they meet and are fair in determining who will represent the people of the state of Ohio.

Sykes isn’t the only Democrat who voted for the new redistricting plan.  80 Democrats did (NO CHECK THAT) But the plan does have some opponents. Republican Representative Ron Hood says he fears that four year provision that would happen if bipartisan agreement can’t be reached would end up creating a dangerous unintended consequence.

Hood – Under a four year, then four year, then two year redistricting system, the abuse by the majority to the minority becomes even greater. 
Hood says lawmakers who are not lock in step with party leaders could become targets in four year redistricting scenarios.  And Tom Zawistowski, who represents Tea Party activists, says it could work against third party candidates too.

Zawistowski “It’s a way to punish anyone who doesn’t get with the party line so it is a loss of representation by the average citizen.”

The Senate is working on its own redistricting proposal.  It’s likely leaders from both chambers will be sitting down soon to hammer out differences in the plans.  Ultimately, it will be up to Ohio voters whether the provisions of this plan would be put in the state constitution.  And when that happens, there’s one voter coalition already being put in place that will help push or defeat the plan at the ballot box.  Sandy Theis is a spokesman for the group that she says represents Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Theis “We are going to put together a very large, diverse, important and strange coalition. And when you have that many different interests represented, all saying our system is badly broken and we need to fix it, I think that’s a message that voters will hear and respond to.

Advocates for redistricting reform say they are focused on what is happening in the Senate.  Many of those calling for change say they hope Senators will follow suit with a similar plan next week.