By: Kelsey Carpenter
On Election Day 2015, Ohio voters implemented ballot initiative Issue 1. This initiative creates a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw the state legislative district lines following the 2020 census, as opposed to the current system that allows the majority party to elect five partisan members to the redistricting commission. According to Issue 1, a seven-member panel that includes representatives from both the majority and minority parties will redraw the lines. The redistricting plan will pass for four years if four members of the panel accept the lines, while it will last for ten years if at least two of those votes come from members of the minority party. It is an interesting plan that attempts to eliminate partisan politics by incentivizing bipartisanship and cooperation.
It is argued by supporters of the Issue that by removing partisanship from the district line drawing, Ohio will see fairer elections. Ohio has had issues with fair elections in the past. In the 2014 election, 57% of voters selected Republican candidates for the House; however, Republicans won 65% of the seats. The Senate featured a similar situation where 54% of voters selected Republican candidates, while Republicans won 59% of the seats in the Senate. These numbers do not correlate, and a way to explain this discrepancy is that the line drawing after the 2010 census gave preference to Republican candidates. This issue is not unique to Ohio; many states struggle with partisan line drawing battles and are attempting to utilize ballot initiatives to change this trend. A big milestone came for supporters after the Supreme Court ruled in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015) that Arizona’s use of an independent redistricting commission was constitutional. Four states passed initiatives that created bipartisan redrawing commissions prior to the 2015 election. While Ohio did pass the initiative this year, this is not the first time that redistricting reform has been on the ballot.
While removing partisanship from redistricting garners wide support nationally, Ohio has not set the best precedent for electing to create bipartisan voting commissions. Prior to this year, there had been three initiatives proposed. The 1981 Amendment 2 was shot down with 58.06% of Ohio voters in opposition, the 2005 Amendment 4 was denied with 69.70% of voters in opposition, and the 2012 Issue 2 was defeated with 63.2% of voters in opposition. Clearly, Ohio voters were not on-board with these updates to the state constitution. However, Election Day proved a shift in the voters’ attitudes.
Issue 1 passed with 71% of the vote. Even though it could be argued that the Ohio Republican Party benefitted the most from the current redistricting policy, the party released a statement praising the Ohio voters for making this bipartisan effort possible. Most interest groups that were against the redistricting change in 2012 actually helped the initiative pass as well. Perhaps this is due to the Arizona State Legislature case, or the obvious disparity between voters’ political preferences and the distribution of legislature seats. Pre-election polls conducted by the University of Akron and Bowling Green State University found that 44% and 54% of voters respectively would be in favor of this change. Both polls also showed a large percentage of the voters being undecided on the issue (29% and 32.2%, respectively), so the last minute efforts of supporters of Issue 1 worked. Even though Issues 2 and 3 gained much more media attention due to their relation to marijuana legalization, the Ohio voters clearly valued this bipartisan effort.