Issue 1 Advocates Now Want To Push For Changes In Drawing Districts For Congress

Nov 27, 2015

Ohio voters passed a new plan for drawing boundaries for state lawmakers’ districts earlier this month. But that didn’t include congressional districts. But some are pushing for lawmakers to take that next step soon.

Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio celebrates the approval of Issue 1 by voters on November 3, 2015.
Credit Karen Kasler

Issue 1 changed the way the map for state House districts was drawn by creating a seven member commission to draw the lines, increasing the number of minority party members in the process and upping the incentive to come up more fairly drawn districts. Common Cause Ohio’s Catherine Turcer said it’s now up to Ohio lawmakers to change the process for drawing congressional districts: “There is no reason for the state legislature not to move on congressional redistricting reform.”

The way Turcer sees it, Ohio voters now understand the issue. And she said the fact that Issue 1 passed by nearly a 3-1 margin sends a strong message. “The poll on Election Day said, hey, we want you to move on congressional redistricting reform," Turcer said. "This is a true mandate from the voters to push for fairness and greater transparency.”

Turcer wants Ohio lawmakers to pass a bipartisan plan in the legislature that would basically apply the same standards to congressional redistricting as the ones for legislative districts in the voter passed issue. Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Green) is one of the sponsors of that plan, along with Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron). "You know if you put Issue 1, which passed overwhelmingly this month, and you put it next to resolution 2 that Senator Sawyer and I drafted, they are virtually identical," LaRose said. "They would look very similar to people in the way they are constructed.”

LaRose said there are some small changes in the Congressional proposal, but the premise of it would still rely on that new commission that will be created to oversee the legislative redistricting process. But at least one key Republican leader is indicating he’s not ready to move quickly to adopt any new redistricting plans.  House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) isn’t saying it is dead on arrival in the Ohio House but he’s not in any hurry to do it now: “We’ve got to let this process work its way through. We are going to…we just passed Issue 1 on the ballot. Now let’s give it a test. Let’s see how this works itself out. We will continue to engage in conversations about it.”

But LaRose fears letting the process work its way through would likely mean putting off congressional redistricting until after 2021 when the new legislative map-drawing process would be put in place. “I’m always in favor of slow and steady and making sure we are going to do things carefully and so I would urge that we diligently work on it over the next few months but I certainly don’t think we want to wait for 15 more years before we reform this process.”

And LaRose said lawmakers can’t afford to wait too long. “My fear is if we don’t, as a legislature, work in a bipartisan way to reform this process that will happen is, because there is so much dissatisfaction out there, that some group, most likely an ideological group, will circulate petition signatures to put their own congressional redistricting proposal on the ballot.”

Catherine Turcer said that’s a real possibility for her group. “I would want to exhaust as many efforts at the Statehouse as possible before moving to a citizen’s initiative but it’s definitely not off the table,” Turcer said.

And Turcer said the longer lawmakers wait, the closer it gets to 2021 and the harder it will be to pass congressional redistricting reforms, “and that’s just because it’s easier to prognosticate and figure out which party will actually be the winner and draw the district lines and it is very hard to give up that power.” Turcer said right now, parties don’t have any idea how the pendulum will swing in the 2020 election so each party has the benefit of thinking about what’s fair for both…and fair for Ohio voters.