The Ohio Supreme Court provided a valuable check last week. A 6-1 majority told the Ohio Ballot Board to try again in crafting a summary of Issue 2, the proposed constitutional amendment that would overhaul the way the state draws congressional and legislative district lines. The court cited, among other things, the failure of the board to include the criteria for new districts and its inaccurate portrayal of the funding mechanism.
The latter concern was so misleading the court found the language “in the nature of a persuasive argument against the proposed amendment.” Actually, that shouldn’t surprise. Republicans hold the majority on the ballot board, Jon Husted, the secretary of state, serving as chairman, and they aren’t keen about the amendment.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Paul Pfeifer offered his own draft of improved ballot language. The court as a whole balked, and understandably so, at telling the board precisely what to write. Yet the Pfeifer model was there. Unfortunately, the board didn’t take the offer, choosing instead to insert passages from the amendment text into the ballot summary, meeting the letter of the court ruling but hardly its spirit.
That’s right; Republicans opposed to Issue 2 dominate the process for shaping how the measure will appear on the ballot. And yes, the issue proposes to end the party’s current control of redistricting. Hard to shake the impression that what Ohioans have in this episode is a rather strong argument for why the proposed amendment deserves serious consideration. If arch partisanship cannot be removed redistricting, perhaps it can be diminished in a useful way.
As it is, Husted himself has been advocate for changing the way district lines are drawn. He has proposed the reasonable idea of requiring a supermajority to win approval of a new map, Democrats and Republicans having to reach agreement. Come to think of it, that would have been an apt principle for the ballot board to apply. Pursue bipartisan approval of the language, and the high court may not have had to step into the fray.