Redistricting overhaul would ensure that each vote counts


Political operatives who push for a big turnout at the polls are fond of reminding potential supporters that every vote matters. The close outcome predicted in this year's presidential election will depend on how many people show up to vote on Election Day.

But convincing registered voters that they count gets harder with every election. Many go through the motions of civic duty, feeling like meaningless cogs in foregone conclusions.

How can we not? Obscene sums of cash shape federal and state campaigns and largely determine results.

The power of infinite financing to manipulate public opinion with media propaganda is undeniable. Yet we still cast ballots in seemingly preordained elections.

We still believe in representative government, even though it ain't easy keeping the faith. In Ohio, the battleground for bottomless election-year spending, voters suffer not only extreme exposure to nonstop political ads, but also extreme gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts.

Besides mountains of money robbing citizens of influence over who represents them, calculating politicians robbed Ohio districts of partisan diversity last year. They drew districts with like-minded constituents to maintain one-party control with can't-lose seats.

It's job security. "Power to the people," a rallying cry for democratic representation, has been perverted by self-serving politicians.

Once upon a time, when we declared our independence from destructive governments, we pledged that future ones would derive their powers from the consent of the governed. We declared a right to alter or abolish whatever takes the will of the commonwealth for granted.

Ohioans have such an opportunity. It's past time to replace our diminished democracy with a deliberate voice.

We can right a redistricting wrong by amending the state Constitution to depoliticize the way our districts are drawn. People, not politicians, should draw the lines for competitive -- not politically safe -- representation.

To stop the remapping by Republicans in Ohio, who gamed the system to their advantage, a coalition of nonpartisan organizations, known as Voters First Ohio, came up with a sane solution. It's a constitutional amendment that would put district mapmaking in the hands of a 12-person citizen commission.

No politicians, lobbyists, or political insiders need apply. The selection process for the Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission is constructed not to favor any party or ideology.

The point is to make the state's method of redistricting and reapportionment less political and more reflective of a broad electorate in compact communities. Constituents in absurdly disjointed districts, such as the reconfigured 9th U.S. House District that snakes along the Lake Erie shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland, can relate.

Voters First has been collecting petition signatures to put the initiative before Ohioans in November. Initially, the group, led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio, fell short of the required number of valid signatures to get on the ballot.

Ann Henkener, a member of the league's board of directors and its specialist in state government and redistricting, says more signatures of registered voters are to be submitted Monday to satisfy another state deadline. She expects enough will be certified to push the referendum ahead.

But she told me critics of the Voters First petition drive are determined to distract public attention from the subject of politically crafted districts that undermine representative democracy.

"It's so much chatter from those who don't want to lose power to shape districts in their own political interests," she said.

"Politicians can't be trusted to reform the redistricting process," Ms. Henkener said. "They hijacked the process in 2011 with mind-boggling geographical divisions just to protect incumbents."

She added: "We want to give it [a system of fair redistricting] back to citizens, people who may be Republican or Democrat but who don't owe a job or allegiance to any political party."

Ms. Henkener believes Ohio can't wait another 10 years to fix a broken system that has produced far-flung districts designed to cater to one camp.

"We don't really want extremes representing us," she said.

It's up to the Ohio Secretary of State's office to qualify the redistricting overhaul issue for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Ohioans can only hope it does, and that the petition signatures withstand scrutiny. We need a chance to reclaim our voice in government and renew the belief that every vote matters.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

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