By NICOLE HENNESSY
WESTSHORE – Volunteers are busy collecting signatures across Ohio with the aim to change the way congressional district lines are drawn.
They want to put a measure on the ballot next year to make drawing lines fair, transparent and non-partisan.
So far, one third of the 305,391 signatures needed to get congressional redistricting reform on the ballot have been gathered and counted.
Heather Macalla, regional coordinator for the Fair Districts = Fair Elections campaign, expects the number of signatures collected to double by Labor Day.
At a workshop at Avon Lake’s United Church of Christ last week, Macalla stressed the need for more volunteers, though many involved are confident collecting enough signatures won’t be a problem.
More than 2,400 volunteers, lead by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Council, are currently collecting signatures, but there is a massive amount of work to do, so the more volunteers the better.
Signatures need to be collected from at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial in half of Ohio’s 88 counties.
That means 3,891 from Lorain County and 16,838 in Cuyahoga County.
The manipulation of political district boundaries to favor a candidate or a political party, known as gerrymandering, was recently addressed when more than 70 percent of voters overwhelmingly approved a 2015 ballot issue to change how Ohio draws its legislative districts. After legislators then failed to push a similar bill though the House, Gov. John Kasich announced he would include congressional redistricting in the state budget he approved June 30. But he backed off.
Fair district advocates realize several aligning factors are making redistricting reform a necessity.
For instance, in 2020 Ohio will lose a congressional seat. The state also lost a seat after the 2010 census, when it dropped from 17 districts to 16. After 2020, Ohio will drop to 15.
Also, with the utilization of data collection and advanced map-drawing technologies, lines can be drawn so precisely that experts predict that by 2020 the vote will be able to be manipulated by more than 30 percent.
Though Ohio tends to be a very mixed state, neither party has successfully flipped a seat since 2010.
When Ohio drops to 15 districts, Macalla said stakeholders believe they could draw the state with 13 Republican districts and two Democratic districts, even though Ohio is about 50 percent Democrat and 50 percent Republican.
If the issue makes it to the ballot and voters approve it, she said, “It would help ensure fair districts are drawn, rather than a political party being in charge and making sure that they maintain that control irregardless to the intent of voters.”
Besides failing to fairly represent constituents, gerrymandered districts also create issues within the government itself. Since general elections tend not to be competitive, the real competition is during primaries between members of the same party. Who’s going to get the nomination. This discourages legislators from challenging colleagues and working with congress people from the other party.
State Rep. Nathan Manning, a Republican, said he was supportive of challenging legislative redistricting and he supports this ballot initiative. Though, he’d like to see it handled through the legislature.
Of republicans who currently do not support the reform, Manning said, “When you’re in power, sometimes it’s easy not to want to change things,” sure to mention the recent failure of Democrats to address the issue the last time the party was in power.
“Rather than trying to play odds, I think we should all just sit down and come up with a fair plan,” Manning added.
Cheryl Bendik, a Rocky River resident, listened as Macalla broke down the issue during the workshop. She said she’s a Democrat and she’s not happy with the power struggle she’s witnessed between the parties over the past few years.
“I would like to see it a little fairer,” said Bendik, picking up a blank petition she’s confident she can complete in a few weeks.
“I have a lot of friends and I’m going to start by asking my friends first,” she said, adding that she may also head to some parks and other public places to solicit signatures.
Besides signature collectors, there is also a need for volunteers to input completed petitions into the computer and compare each signature with voting records.
Macalla stressed that this is a nonpartisan issue and a great way for people to learn about the democratic process.
“I may disagree with my neighbor, but their vote should count,” she said.
SIDE BAR: Volunteers interested in collecting signatures do not need to sign up. Just pick up petitions from a list of verified businesses and homeowners listed at http://www.fairdistrictsohio.org/petitions.html.
Those interested in more information are encouraged to join the Facebook group, Westshore Fair Districts.