By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The League of Women Voters wants to make it as easy as possible for voters to take a stand against gerrymandering. So on Saturday, the organization set up drive-thru petition signing locations across the region – with one in the parking lot of the Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green.
The project called “Fair Districts = Fair Elections,” is a non-partisan effort by the Ohio League of Women Voters to place a redistricting amendment on the 2018 ballot across the state. If the petition effort is successful, Ohio voters will have an opportunity to end gerrymandering – the practice of congressional districts being drawn to favor one political party over another.
Joan Callecod, of Bowling Green, said citizens don’t need to be persuaded to sign the petition.
“They hear the word ‘gerrymandering,’ and they say, ‘Show me the petition,’” Callecod said Saturday as she sat outside the library with other local League of Women Voters members.
To get the issue on the November 2018 ballot, 306,000 valid signatures must be collected statewide. But Callecod explained the criteria is more specific than that. At least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties must collect signatures from a minimum of 5 percent of their voters in the last gubernatorial election. In Wood County, that’s about 1,700 signatures.
During the first month of volunteers collecting signatures, more than 100,000 were gathered, Callecod said.
The ultimate goal is to get congressional districts lines drawn so that the elections aren’t decided even before the votes are cast.
“An expanded board would have minority participation and required approval of the proposed map,” Callecod said. That proposed map would also be available for public viewing before it is approved. “We’re trying to make it more open.”
Politicians from both sides of the aisle support the measure.
“The way it is right now, it just intensifies the divisiveness,” Callecod said. “Under gerrymandering, instead of the voters choosing the legislators, the legislators chose their voters.”
Also collecting signatures outside the library on Saturday were Char Scherer and Joyce Kepke, other League of Women Voters members.
“I’d like to see fairer elections, thank you,” Scherer said.
“The voters deserve the opportunity to have a fair election and to really make their votes count – and they don’t now,” Kepke said.
That not only makes it difficult for candidates of different parties to break through, it also discourages candidates from even attempting.
“It’s very, very difficult to run now,” Kepke said.
Highlights of the “Fair Districts” proposal include:
- In 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 1 to create the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw state legislative districts. This proposal adds congressional districts too.
- Votes from both major parties are necessary to approve districts, not just the majority, requiring compromise.
- Bans gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating districts to favor or disfavor a political party or candidate.
- Keeps communities whole by minimizing the splitting of counties, municipalities, and townships. No county may be split more than once.
- Requires representational fairness, meaning districts should correspond to the partisan preferences of voters.
- Must follow laws protecting minority voting rights and one person one vote, and requires districts to be contiguous and compact.
More information may be found at www.fairdistrictsohio.org.