Redistricting makes May ballot – thanks to compromise

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It looked as if Ohio’s redistricting reform might be doomed to failure – with opposing sides of the issue not budging. But on Monday, a compromise was reached that satisfied both political parties plus the League of Women Voters and other citizen groups which had been pushing hard for reform. Ohio Senate Majority Leader Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, called the unanimous Senate passage of Ohio Congressional Redistricting Reform “pretty remarkable.” The compromise, he said, should help restore public confidence that state legislators can tackle controversial issues in a bipartisan way. “This historic, bipartisan vote is yet another example how state legislators in Columbus find ways to work together,” Gardner said. This afternoon, the Ohio House voted to support the bill. The compromise was reached just in time, since the deadline to get an issue on the primary election ballot is this Wednesday at 4 p.m. The proposed plan keeps the legislature in charge of drawing congressional district maps, but adds additional steps requiring minority party support to put a map in place for 10 years. Ohio’s current process allows the majority party to dissect counties and cities to create districts that favor the party in power. Under the current map, drawn by Republicans in 2011, the GOP holds 12 of Ohio’s 16 seats while only winning 56 percent of the votes. The plan establishes, for the first time, criteria for limiting the number of times counties, cities, villages and townships can be divided into multiple districts. Monday night the Senate voted 31-0 for a Senate resolution that would place the proposed constitutional amendment on the May primary ballot.  Gardner referred to the effort as a “major breakthrough.” Joan Callecod, a member of the Bowling Green League of Women Voters, was excited to hear about the compromise in the Senate. “It looks promising,” she said. “It’s a positive thing, anytime there is compromise.” The Bowling Green League of Women Voters has been advocating redistricting reform. Local members have been collecting petition signatures for a project called “Fair Districts = Fair Elections,” a non-partisan effort to place a redistricting amendment on the November 2018 ballot across the state. The ultimate goal was to get congressional district lines drawn so that the elections aren’t decided before the votes are cast. “The way it is right now, it just intensifies the divisiveness,” Callecod said last year as she and other league members collected signatures at the county library. “Under gerrymandering, instead of the voters choosing the legislators, the legislators chose their voters.” Callecod said Tuesday that she suspects the push by citizen advocacy groups helped convince the legislature to reach a compromise. “The legislature would not have responded the way they have without that,” she said. The League of Women Voters had wanted the district lines drawn by a commission rather than legislators. But at least the Senate proposal offers a second step that would involve a commission if the legislature could not agree on district lines, she said. Plus, the process will be conducted in the open, Callecod said. “There will be open hearings. It won’t be done behind closed doors like in the past,” she said. Senate Joint Resolution 5 requires minority party support for redrawing congressional district boundaries, including a set of new criteria that keeps communities together and will lead to more competitive elections in many areas of Ohio. The plan was endorsed by the Ohio League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the Fair Districts Coalition in addition to Republican and Democratic leaders. “While there is strong debate in the state…

Petition against gerrymandering is taken to the streets

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