Issue 2 on this fall's statewide ballot enables voters to start to reclaim Ohio's election machinery from the partisan politicians and their special-interest allies who now control it. The reform proposal merits a strong YES vote.
The ballot proposal would amend the Ohio Constitution to change the way district boundaries are revised for the state's U.S. House delegation and the General Assembly after every federal census. Such redistricting largely determines the level of party competition within Ohio, a battleground state in national elections.
That process now is dictated by the Republican Party, which dominates the legislature and state Apportionment Board -- and thus, the drawing of political maps. Republicans have rigged the maps in their favor, giving themselves the edge to win as many as 12 of Ohio's 16 U.S. House seats and to keep control of both legislative houses for another decade.
The GOP maps have created such abominations as the 9th U.S. House District, which snakes from Toledo to Cleveland -- a travesty of effective political representation. Ohio's gerrymandering allows politicians to choose their voters rather than the other way around.
It shouldn't be this way. The political imbalance created by the current mapping process encourages partisan and ideological extremism, promotes gridlock, protects entrenched incumbents unfairly, and diminishes competitive elections and fair representation.
This isn't a partisan issue. Ohio Democrats engaged in similar practices when they held the map-drawing pens. The answer is not merely to urge both parties to compromise and administer the redistricting process jointly; such arguments have not prevailed in at least 40 years. Rather, the answer is to take the process out of partisan hands entirely.
Voter approval of Issue 2 would assign the task of drawing congressional and legislative districts to an independent, state-funded citizens' commission composed of equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. The maps it creates would go into effect in 2014.
The commission would be required to do its work in public. The districts it draws would have to be politically competitive and geographically compact, preserving local communities of interest and maintaining county and municipal boundaries. None of these principles of accountability applies to the current process.
Politicians who are directly affected by reapportionment would be excluded from the commission. So would party officials, lobbyists, and major campaign donors. That's one reason the state GOP and the interests aligned with it are fighting Issue 2 so vehemently.
The proposal taps state appeals-court judges to vet candidates for the redistricting panel, and gives the Ohio Supreme Court final authority to select maps if the panel can't agree. These provisions cause opponents to claim that Issue 2 would violate separation-of-powers values and overly politicize the state's judiciary.
That is a serious argument, but not a fatal one. Several other states involve their judges in the selection of redistricting commission members more than Issue 2 would do here. Ohio's judges are hardly apolitical now; state Supreme Court justices and many appeals court judges run with the backing of a political party.
The Supreme Court already has authority to resolve redistricting disputes. And Ohio judges routinely appoint people to public bodies without compromising their professional integrity.
According to some recent surveys, voters are more likely to favor Issue 2 once they understand what it would do. Yet a statewide poll sponsored by The Blade and other Ohio newspapers suggests the proposal may be headed for defeat because many voters are unfamiliar with it. Voters in doubt tend to vote no.
That shouldn't happen. Issue 2 gives voters a clear choice between greater democracy in their political system and unfair dominance by either party and the special interests allied with it.
Ohioans who want to promote fairness in elections should vote YES on Issue 2.
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