Activists Launch Ballot Initiative Against Gerrymandering

Jack Brewster, Staff Writer

Activist groups in Oberlin and across Ohio are banding together to fight the allegedly partisan drawing of congressional voting districts in the state.

The Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio coalition aims to prevent partisanship in the voter map drawing process — better known as gerrymandering — through a ballot initiative. The group has spent the past few months gathering signatures for a petition to get legislation that will change voting district mapping strategy on the ballot in 2018.

“Gerrymandering has made it no longer one person, one vote,” said Alison Ricker, president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Head of the Oberlin College Science Library. “Essentially, politicians are able to choose their voters, rather than voters getting to choose their politicians.”

Every 10 years, the United States conducts a census report to determine the population of the country. After the census is completed, the state draws new voting districts based on the new population distribution. In many states, the process is controlled by the party in power. Often, the majority party will use their influence to draw voting districts to pick up more seats in upcoming elections. The advantage can be substantial.

In 2010 — the last time the districts were drawn — Republicans were in the majority in Ohio, drawing districts that could skew election results in their favor. Ohio — a state that is typically considered politically balanced — has 12 and four congressional districts represented by Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

“Things were just happening under the table,” said College sophomore Monica Dix, chair of the Oberlin College Democrats, regarding the district-drawing process in 2010. “It was really closed door. There were no public hearings. It’s just really frustrating to see that process go so poorly in 2010.”

The ballot initiative would build off a similar constitutional amendment that passed by a large margin in 2015. Issue 1 created a new Ohio Redistricting Commission composed of the governor, the auditor, the secretary of state, and four representatives of the legislature — two from each party. It also made it possible for the minority party to effectively block a redistricting map if they felt it was unfair to require the votes of two minority party representatives to approve each map. However, Issue 1 applied only for state legislative districts. The 2018 ballot initiative would effectively extend Issue 1 to congressional districts.

Although Democrats have recently been hurt more by the redistricting process in Ohio than Republicans, Dix and others involved in the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio initiative maintain it is a bipartisan effort.

“I think this is an issue that all of Ohio can get invested in,” Dix said. “It’s not about favoring one party over another. This petition just wants to get an even playing field for both parties.”

To bring the ballot initiative to voters next November, the petition must have over 300,000 signatures. According to Ricker, over 200,000 have signed the petition already. However, Ricker says that the coalition still needs around 600,000 signatures to succeed because a large portion of the signatures will allegedly be declared “invalid” by the secretary of state.

There’s also a possibility that the Ohio state legislature will put a reform measure on the ballot themselves.

“If it comes from the legislature, it’s much easier to get it on the ballot,” Ricker said. “But we want to be sure that they fulfill all of the criteria that we had proposed.”