Back To The Drawing Board On Redistricting
A Guest Column by State Senator Frank LaRose
July 22, 2015
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The common refrain “To the victor belongs the spoils” was first used after the 1828 victory of President Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party, when political loyalty frequently trumped merit in hiring practices. Today the phrase is frequently employed by Republicans and Democrats alike to rationalize a system of redistricting that benefits politicians far more than voters. For decades, members of both political parties have mastered the art of surgically drawing legislative lines to their own advantage. As long as the majority party exercises exclusive control over redistricting, elections will not accurately reflect the will of Ohio voters.
Ohioans are ready for a change, and the time is right to deliver it to them.
I entered office in 2011 with redistricting reform high on my list of priorities. Four years later, I joined my colleagues in passing landmark legislation to reform the process by which Ohio draws state legislative districts. HJR 12, which I was proud to help shepherd through the Senate and co-sponsor, is the end product of an extensive bipartisan effort to achieve balance and equity in our redistricting system for state legislative districts. The proposal, which voters will have the opportunity to approve this November as Issue 1, creates a seven-member Redistricting Commission composed of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and four leaders from the legislature representing the majority and minority from each chamber. The new process, which members of the Senate approved almost unanimously, will infuse transparency and bipartisanship into the work of redistricting.
Last month’s Supreme Court decision, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, left no doubt that Ohio can use the same process to draw lines for congressional districts as is proposed for state districts in Issue 1. Although the decision affirms the validity of independent commissions as a redistricting mechanism, and Ohio’s Redistricting Commission is in fact a hybrid created by the legislature, it makes a clear statement that congressional district maps do not necessarily have to originate in state legislatures.
I recently introduced a resolution with my colleague from Summit County, Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) that would give the seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission the responsibility for drawing federal legislative district lines in addition to state legislative district lines. The resolution is designed to restrain partisanship by compelling compromise and transparency.
Approval of the map drawn by the Commission, scheduled to convene in 2021, would require the vote of four members, including two votes from the minority party. If the Commission succeeds at drawing a map that garners four votes, the legislative districts would remain in effect for 10 years until the next census. If members of the Commission fail to attain the four votes—including the two minority party votes—they trigger an “impasse” provision. In this situation, the map they approved would only go into effect for four years, after which the Commission would have to reconvene to draw a new map for the remaining six years before the next census.
For political and practical reasons, no member of the Commission wants to fail at achieving consensus and draw new legislative lines after only three years. The incentive to compromise and reach an agreement that draws legislative lines for a full decade is significant because the voters could penalize the current Commission members by voting them out of office.
For the sake of transparency, the resolution requires all Redistricting Commission meetings to be open to the public and broadcast statewide. The public will have the opportunity to directly observe consensus-building in action as Commission members fulfill their duty to draw reasonable, compact districts that mirror the preferences of Ohio voters without benefiting either political party disproportionately. 

The accountability that public access introduces to the redistricting process is unprecedented in Ohio through this resolution. 
In the long run, our current winner-takes-all redistricting system is simply not sustainable. In my view, it is the largest contributing factor to political dysfunction at both the state and federal levels. The closer we get to 2021, the more difficult it will be to achieve lasting bipartisan reform because partisans on either side of the aisle will begin to make political calculations about what is most advantageous for their own party.

Bipartisanship can be a tough course to follow in the current political climate, but throwing off the weight of flawed redistricting will certainly make for better governing. 
Ohio voters have stated loud and clear that the current system of redistricting does not work for them. No solution is perfect, but we have proposed one that is balanced, transparent, and bipartisan. The strength of our democracy rests not on the strength of the dominant political party but on the extent to which it accurately reflects the will of the voters.
When it comes to drawing legislative lines, it’s time to return the drawing board and create a system that works for all Ohioans.

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