Issue 1 Tackles Ohio Gerrymandering

Haley Johnson

This Election Day’s ballot only includes three issues, but all of them have the potential to significantly alter Ohio. Aside from potentially legalizing marijuana and halting market monopolies, voters will have the opportunity to resolve many of the gerrymandering issues that have plagued Ohio’s government in the past.

Issue 1, or the Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment, will create a bipartisan commission to determine state legislative districts. The amendment, which both the Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed, is expected to alleviate some concerns over boundaries that have heavily favored Republicans in the past.

“Both parties have recognized that citizens are increasingly unhappy with the way the system is working and feel that their votes don’t count, which is largely true under gerrymandering,” said Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Ohio Mary Kirtz Van Nortwick. “They have realized that gerrymandering is becoming so extreme that lawsuits are likely.”

Both Lorain County and Oberlin have suffered from gerrymandering in the past by having their votes mixed with outlier populations. Many hope the creation of new districts will allow for fairer representation if Issue 1 is passed. Ohio currently has seven counties that are divided into three or more districts. Lorain County alone is divided into three separate districts, Kirtz Van Nortwock said.

“Our representative lives at the opposite end of the district from us,” Kirtz Van Nortwock said. “Although he won only 9 percent of Oberlin’s vote and lost the vote in the part of Lorain County that is in his district, he easily won by over 60 percent [overall]. Thus, Oberlin and Lorain County have virtually no chance of voting in a different candidate unless the district lines are redrawn.”

The new commission charged with redistricting will have seven members: two members of the majority party, two members of the minority party, the governor, the state auditor and the secretary of state. The body that currently controls congressional district lines is only comprised of five members and requires only one member of the minority party.

Under Issue 1’s regulations, two members of the commission from each major political party would need to approve a 10-year redistricting plan for it to go into effect. A four-year plan would be implemented with a simple majority vote if a bipartisan vote fails.

Ohio State University Political Science Professor Richard Gunther, an expert on voting districts in Ohio and an Issue 1 advocate, said that Ohio’s current state legislative district map is the third worst in the world.

“[Gerrymandering] breaks up communities and swamps voter’s preferences with outskirt voters,” said Gunther, who worked with the League of Women Voters of Ohio to draft Issue 1 and has been attempting to amend redistricting laws in Ohio since 2005.

Still, Issue 1 advocates have their sights set on more redistricting laws that will enforce fairer national congressional districts instead of improving only state legislative lines. The amendment calls for public hearings that will allow voters to give input into drafting district lines.

“[Issue 1] is a first step in that it addresses drawing state legislative, but not congressional, district boundaries,” League of Women Voters Board Member Ellen Mavrich said. “Righting congressional district mapping is still on the horizon.”

Ohioans will have the opportunity vote on Issue 1 and other ballot initiatives on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3.