November's ballot already is so overcrowded that Ohio voters may just give up instead of trying to make sense of it. But a potential addition to the long list of state and local levies and questions is both timely and needed.
Every 10 years, after the national Census, Ohio adjusts the boundaries of state legislative and U.S. House districts to reflect population changes. Whether Republicans or Democrats control the General Assembly and hold the statewide offices that are charged with redrawing the lines, the party in power abuses its power to create more districts for itself and fewer for the other party.
The gerrymandering is often appalling. The new 9th Congressional District meanders along Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland. It is neither compact nor competitive, and is contiguous only because of a bridge that connects two parts of the district that are separated by water.
State lawmakers talk about making the process less political. This year, the GOP-controlled legislature created two panels — the Redistricting Task Force and the Constitutional Modernization Commission — to recommend changes.
But there is little hope for reform when Gov. John Kasich and state Senate President Thomas Niehaus, both Republicans, say they don’t think the Ohio Constitution requires neutrality in redistricting.
So it is up to Ohio voters to do what politicians won’t: remove the apparently irresistible temptation to place partisanship ahead of public interest. And the only way to do that is with a constitutional amendment that will put a nonpartisan, independent citizens’ commission in charge of creating compact, competitive political districts that reflect the demographics of the state.
Voters First Ohio, a nonpartisan coalition of government watchdog groups, has advocated such a plan for years. It held public contests to create districts that would be immensely fairer than those drawn in Columbus. It is routinely ignored by the state’s political leaders.
Now it has enlisted the labor-backed coalition that led last year’s successful campaign to repeal a Republican law that would have gutted collective bargaining for public employees. We Are Ohio is putting its 500,000-name email list and 100,000-plus Facebook friends to work, disseminating information and gathering signatures so Ohio voters can decide how they want district maps to look.
Advocates must collect 386,000 valid signatures of Ohio voters by July 4 to secure a spot on the November ballot. Every voter, Republican or Democrat, who cares about fairness in the electoral process should find and sign one of the thousands of petitions that are circulating.
This fall, Ohio voters will choose a president, a U.S. senator, some state senators, every U.S. and state House member, two state Supreme Court justices, and a long list of county and local officials. They also will be asked to vote on a growing number of state and local ballot issues.
Voters are justifiably angered when they are expected to do the jobs of the officials they elect to represent them. But in this case it’s necessary, because the right to vote is meaningless when politicians get to choose their voters. Put redistricting reform on the November ballot.