Last week saw two developments that bring hope for a stronger democracy in Ohio: the kickoff of a bipartisan campaign for a constitutional amendment to reform how Ohio’s Statehouse districts are drawn, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that opens up a chance to reform the drawing of districts for Congress, as well. At the moment, Ohio’s state and national political districts are the handiwork of majority Republicans, and they’re a masterpiece of gerrymandering, drawn to produce as many Republican-dominated districts as possible. Despite the fact that Ohio voters are about evenly split and have chosen the Democrat in the past two presidential elections, Republicans have won 12 of its 16 U.S. House seats and control the state legislature by a two-thirds margin. Democrats have done the same when they’ve had the opportunity to control the process.
Districts that overwhelmingly favor one party or the other don’t only disenfranchise minority-party voters; they lead to lousy legislatures. Elections effectively are decided in the partisan primary, by candidates who know they’ll have no need to appeal to voters of the opposite party. This tends to stock the Statehouse not with thoughtful problem-solvers but ideologues.
Issue 1 could change that, by creating districts in which candidates have to earn votes by appealing to a broader spectrum of voters, rather than competing to outpander partisan rivals.