Secretary of State Jon Husted said Thursday that the process for drawing legislative district boundaries encourages excess partisanship and shuts out voices from those in the political minority. Husted, addressing the state’s Constitutional Modernization Commission, told the panel he thinks the process needs to be changed, and changed quickly. The goal, he said, should be to have an issue on the ballot in 2014. “I believe that redistricting reform, if done correctly, can be the most important reform to the Constitution in generations, because it has the potential to fix a broken democracy,” Husted said. Overhauling the process is something Husted has sought dating back to his days in the General Assembly, including his tenure as House speaker. Presently the Republicans, Husted’s own party, have a stronghold on key state offices and large majorities in both chambers in the Legislature. What he’s proposing could reduce that dominance.
The current system has created a winner-takes-all prize every 10 years since seats on the apportionment board, which draws boundaries for state legislative districts, are determined by who holds office, Husted said. The General Assembly in turn approves the map for congressional districts. So if one party gains power, it can draw boundary lines to retain power.
“Those gerrymandered lines lead to one-party control of the Legislatures,” he said. “We all know that the rules and the way the lines are drawn have a major effect on the outcome of the races.”
It also leads to a disproportional share of power for congressional seats. He noted that while President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won the state in the 2012 election, 12 of 16 congressional seats are held by Republicans.
“When you look at each of the individual congressional races, you will see that there were few competitive seats in the last general election,” he said. “Our current system has ensured that the big prize in most legislative and congressional elections is the primary election, where small groups of voters are deciding who is the congressional or legislative representative … rather than the majority of the population that the representative is supposed to serve.”