Speaking to an Akron Press Club audience last week, Jon Husted again pressed Ohio lawmakers to act on redistricting reform, a priority the secretary of state rightly championed while a member of the state Senate. But Husted didn’t stop there.
He also provided welcome support for the idea of another independent effort to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, through a petition drive, bypassing the legislature if it fails to act. His support comes at a crucial juncture because the likelihood of legislative action in time for the general election this year has dropped to practically no chance at all.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate adjourned for the summer. They are not expected back until September, or long after the Aug. 6 deadline for lawmakers to place constitutional amendments on the fall ballot.
Legislative leaders prefer to wait for a recommendation from a special constitutional commission, but it has stalled, pushing action into next year, when finding bipartisan consensus will have grown increasingly difficult. That’s because the party in control after this year’s statewide and legislative elections stands a good chance of winning again in 2018, finding itself well positioned for the next round of redistricting, following the 2020 census.
To be sure, both parties have played partisan games over the years with the highly politicized process of redrawing legislative and U.S. House districts. Still, following the most recent census, Republican majorities in the legislature (which drew congressional districts) and on the state apportionment board (which drew legislative boundaries) crafted especially lopsided districts after Democrats failed to support Husted’s plan for a bipartisan process.
Substantial support still exists for redistricting reform, the Senate in late 2012 passing a bipartisan resolution that called for a more balanced panel to redraw legislative and congressional lines. The crucial element is the requirement to gain at least one vote from the minority party.
As Husted pointed out in his talk, no plan is perfect. Ohio has urban areas dominated by Democrats and rural areas dominated by Republicans. That said, a far greater number of competitive districts could be created, with the end result that there would be more legislators in Columbus and Washington ready to seek common ground on difficult issues.
Ohio cannot afford to wait on reform. Rather than rely on the slow-moving constitutional commission and the legislature, the better course is a petition drive.
A citizen-initiated plan failed at the polls in 2012. But evidence mounts about how flawed districts contribute heavily to legislative bodies failing to address the concerns of average voters. Now is the time for another try, before the Ohio loses another decade.