If Ohio voters opt to approve state Issue 2, they most likely will pave the way to fairer, more compact congressional and legislative districts than those recently drawn under Republican control. Republicans used the redistricting process to produce monstrously misshapen boundaries, designed to give its candidates maximum advantage.
Yet the crucial question involving Issue 2 is: How, exactly, would the redrawing be achieved?
Unfortunately, deep in the proposed constitutional amendment’s complexities are flaws so serious they undermine the ultimate goal. More, once embedded in the constitution, those flaws would be most difficult to fix, requiring another amendment and the approval of voters.
We recommend a no vote on state Issue 2 on Nov. 6.
The new process would start by selecting a 12-member citizens commission to draw new districts. It would plunge Ohio’s judicial branch (its members already nominated in partisan primaries) even deeper into the political fray and compromise its ability to rule on inevitable legal disputes.
Both the Ohio Judicial Conference and the Ohio State Bar Association want no part. Yet under the amendment, a panel of appellate court judges, chosen by the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, would winnow the field of applicants (potentially thousands) to 42. Imagine the pressure that would be applied by party leaders.
After the House speaker and minority leader remove a set of applicants, the panel would select by lot three Republicans, three Democrats and three from the ranks of voters unaffiliated with either major party, not necessarily a test of true independence. The nine then would pick one Republican, one Democrat and one unaffiliated citizen.
With seven votes needed to approve a plan, no effort would be spared by the political parties to bend the will of the unaffiliated.
In attempting to insulate an inherently political decision from politics, the League of Women Voters and other groups crafted barriers that would stop participation by the likes of former state and federal officeholders, political employees and lobbyists. Then, they truly overreached, barring participation by family members of the politically connected, even in-laws, and those making modest political contributions and former candidates.
Opponents of Issue 2 don’t pretend to offer a defense of the current maps. Republicans in control of the Ohio House and Senate drew 12 of 16 congressional districts in their favor — in a state fiercely competitive in presidential races. Meanwhile, a board controlled by the governor, auditor and secretary of state (all Republicans) carved up legislative districts. The problem is, such lopsided results tend to produce partisans on both sides who resist compromise and governing from the center.
Sound alternatives have been advanced, based on a seven-member bipartisan panel of statewide and legislative officeholders. A better outcome would be reached by requiring a supermajority for approval, two votes coming from the minority party. House Democrats walked away from that idea, hoping to hold the levers of power in 2010. They miscalculated and now many Democrats and their allies have embraced Issue 2.
Republican opponents insist that if the proposal fails at the polls, they will be ready to enact a new, simpler method for redistricting. That is a slim reed to hold, but it is better than Issue 2.