Ann Payne, chair of the League of Women Voters Toledo-Lucas County, says it’s easier these days to have petitions signed by registered voters, irrespective of political leanings, concerning legislation curtailing gerrymandering.
The issue of the drawing of boundaries for US congressional districts— gerrymandering— by where districts are redrawn every 10 years by the legislature, often done to benefit the party in power, has been a major focus of the League of Women Voters (LWV) for over half a century. Currently those efforts have become more frequent in Ohio, as the LWV branches in Toledo-Lucas County, Perrysburg and Wood County are collaborating on a drive to gather signatures in support of Fair Districts = Fair Elections, which aims to put a proposal for a bipartisan redistricting commission on the November 2018 ballot.
A reason for hope
“Last time we did this, we were trying to promote an independent redistricting commission in 2012. And every time I tried to talk to somebody then, they’d look at me blankly, like ‘What are you talking about?’” Payne said. “This time, that’s not happening. Maybe once for every seven to eight signatures I have to explain in great detail, what gerrymandering is.”
In order to place an issue on the ballot, LWV must collect signatures representing 5 percent of the voters from the last gubernatorial election in at least half of Ohio’s 88 counties. As of October 13, Fair Districts has gathered over 150,000 signatures, reaching their goal in 13 counties— neither Wood nor Lucas Counties had enough signatures.
But Payne sees reasons for hope. Two years ago, a similar proposition on the ballot for a fair redistricting of state house mapmaking was approved by over 70 percent of voters.
“Two years ago, the legislature— under great duress— put on the ballot the establishment of a redistricting commission. The issue passed, establishing the commission, which is the governor, the secretary of state, the auditor, the head of the Ohio house, the head of the Ohio senate, and two additional people from the minority party, to make sure there are at least two people of the other party. They must meet with transparency. They must show their map to the public. They must take suggestions from the public. No sitting state congressperson can be on this commission.”
More and more extreme
Payne sees no reason why a similar proposal aimed at US congressional districts would be any less popular on the ballot, especially in an era where many voters feel disillusioned by the election process, as representatives from increasingly “safe” districts have to resort to more incendiary rhetoric to stand out in the primaries— the only elections, Payne argues, that really matter in a gerrymandered world.
“When a district’s boundaries are drawn to include a majority of voters from a particular party, then the only election that’s going to have any competition is the primary. And then the candidates get more and more extreme. … It’s going to create a more extreme Congress.”
Local branches of the LWV have already held numerous drives for petition signatures in recent months, and they are planning for an even bigger push on Election Day. Payne said she hopes their efforts will give voters a renewed sense of involvement and importance in the operation of their government.
“So when people say to you, ‘My vote doesn’t count’— they’re right. Your vote doesn’t count in Northwest Ohio. Because the districts are gerrymandered,” Payne said. “It’s about fairness. It’s about competition. It’s about hearing all voices. It’s about having your voice heard. People are disillusioned when their vote doesn’t count.”
For more information on the Fair Districts = Fair Elections petition drive or to volunteer, visit: fairdistrictsohio.org
From 6:30-8pm on Thursday, November 9, learn more about redistricting with speakers including Dr. Melissa Miller, a BGSU
associate professor. Way Public Library,
101 E. Indiana Ave., Perrysburg.