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March Membership Meeting Report - Richard Gunther and Changing Ohio's Redistricting Rules

UAPA Membership meetingOhioans for Fair Districts logo
Upper Arlington Public Library, Friends Theater
3/20/12, 7:00 pm

Dick Gunther, Ohioans for Fair Districts

Yesterday we filed our petition [to change redistricting rules in the Ohio constitution] with the AG (attorney general). We hope it will be certified in early April so we can start collecting signatures. Monday will be the 200th anniversary of Gerrymandering.

Why change our redistricting procedure? The current procedure stinks. Whoever controls the legislature controls the boundaries. The actual plans for the current reapportionment were drawn up in “the bunker.” In fact, Armand Budish, the Democratic member of the committee to make the maps, was not even notified of many of the meetings. The map on page 3 speaks for itself. (See attached handout.)

What makes a good district?

  1. Compactness.

  2. Competitiveness.

  3. Community preservation. The people that live there have common economic interests. Then look at the 9th district. That was made to have Marcy Kaptor and Dennis Kucinich kill each other off. The current map has 52 different community splits.

  4. Representational fairness. The outcomes should represent the will of the voters. On page 2, we look at the electoral fairness. You take the proportion of seats gained by a party, and subtract it from the proportion of voters who supported that party. The unfairness in Ohio is worse than the worst democracy in the world. Wouldn’t you like to have elections choose the winner? The “competitive” districts have a swing of 8%. For that, you have to have a groundswell to win that seat. One strategy is packing and cracking. The bottom line is, we need to replace the system of politicians drawing their own maps with one that would be fair.

We would replace the current practice with an independent group to make the maps. The twelve individuals would draw the district boundaries. They would make all information necessary for the decision and the software available online. The maps of citizens as well as the maps of the commission would all be considered. The maps would be evaluated by the commission. The winning map would score highest on the four criteria discussed above.

We have proved this method can work. First we ran it in 2009 with the organizational help of the Secretary of State. In 2010, we ran it with the help of Ohio Citizen Action and the League of Women Voters (LWV). We got 53 maps and the winner was made by a Republican state legislator from Illinois.

We will be gathering 360,000 valid signatures, which means we really need 600,000 signatures over all. Now we need to raise money. We need financial assistance to be able to move this process forward. There are two ways you can help. You can volunteer to circulate petitions. You can donate to our campaign on our website.

The wind is in our sails. The Columbus Dispatch called this the most egregious example of gerrymandering ever. We now have a very favorable climate in Ohio. The proposal has a favorability rating of 50% to 20%. Then after explaining the details, the numbers increase to 58% and the negatives go down to 13%. With Republicans, the support went from 2:1 to even more than 2:1.

I met with the Gang of Four today. They are rooting for us to get our 360,000 signatures, because this will give them more leverage to work it out legislatively. In our meeting, they firmly asserted that people would oppose going forward in 2014 rather than 2022. Our polling says the opposite. We hope to put this on the ballot to enable the people to do it. The other route is to have the proposed constitutional amendment pass by 60% in both chambers. We tried the legislative plan, and now we are going forward with plan B.


Q: You’re speaking to a fairly D group. Are you doing the same with Republicans?

A: First, we’re hitting nonpartisan groups like the LWV.. Next I’m trying to set up meetings with high level Republicans on board. I’m hoping to recruit Voinovich and Taft. Once we have some high level R’s on board, then we can get in to regular R groups. We’re currently meeting with the Tea Party and the Greens, because they’re shut out of the current system as well.


Q: Who is on the board behind this effort?

A: Myself, Dan Tokaji from the Law School, a number of other people. When the Ohio Educational Association jumped on board, we got George Hicks. Our redistricting campaign will be run by Melamed Group, which ran the successful No on 5 campaign. We hope Tim Burga of the AFL CIO will join us next Monday. As we get more groups on board, we are having more people sit at the table.


Q: I can tell you’ve got a lot of your life put into this, and thank you. How do we get this to be a national movement?

A: A lot of the same players are involved. The California redistricting campaign was run by Common Cause. The LWV ran the one in Florida. In Arizona, Jan Brewer fired the independent redistricting committee chair for dereliction of duty. From that, we learned to have the government have actually no jurisdiction over the committee. No plan can be adopted that would disproportionately reward one party or the other. In California, the language allowed a lot of town meetings and individual input. There were no specific criteria for selection. So they were winging it, they were making it up as they went along. The reason why there were so many seats changed hands was interesting. The legislative democrats made a deal with Karl Rove. He said, save my Republican seats, and you can gerrymander the hell of the map.


Q: Aren’t you worried about having a 6-6 tie?

A: That is a problem. If they don’t agree, then it goes to the court. One of the provisions we wrote was that the court can only look between the plans that were already under consideration. They have to pick the one that in their judgment matches the best of the four criteria we set forth.


Q: Can we require using software and not a commission?

A: Some people would freak out about our maps being made by computers.

One of Ted’s constituents voted in the wrong place because his precinct was divided between two districts. How can that even be possible?


Q: The municipality can be preserved, and the county can be preserved.

A: We are intentionally ambiguous about this. The principle is community preservation. We don’t define what community is. The board will have to determine that.


Q: The sad experience of the Reform Ohio Now campaign was that it stressed only one criterion, competitiveness. The opponents went to town with that.

A: You can’t max out on any one criterion, you have to have a compromise between different criteria.


Q: How does Ohio fare compared to other states?

A: All the processes vary tremendously state by state. It matters whether there is a divided legislature or a divided government. In some cases where you have commissions (such as Pennsylvania) where you have a requirement of R and D support, you end up with bi-partisan gerrymandering, where all incumbent seats are safe.


Q: How are the commission chosen?

A: We will have people nominate themselves. Then 42 will be chosen by 8 appellate court members. In selecting these individuals, there will be interviews and reading their applications. The pools will be chosen of 8 D, 8 R, and 8 independents. Then the speaker of the house and the leader of the minority party can toss out three each. Excluded from participating are office holders, lobbyists. This is to get rid of excessive partisan bias.

Selection of the pool is an important factor when we are going to collect signatures.


Q: How do you respond to the Michael Barone editorial today?

A: There were places in the Midwest where the R’s picked up seats, Ohio, Wisconsin, etc. The court drawn boundaries in Texas may still add three Hispanic districts. Just by luck, it happened the seats canceled out.


Q: When will we be getting started?

A: We’re hoping to be up and running by mid-April. We may be lucky and have this ready by early April. That is quite fortuitous. Farmers Markets are open. It will be a little easier than it was in the dead of winter.


Q: Organization?

A: We’re going to be hiring our campaign manager in the next couple weeks.

UAPA will be having organizational meetings and training to get it ready to go.


Q:  Petition fatigue?

A: People think they signed already. Government by petition is not a good thing. Fortunately there is not anything similar to ours. There will be a personhood initiative. There will be a right to marry. There will be a right to work initiative.


Q: Will you look for help from the campaigns?

A: We don’t want to receive an explicit endorsement from the ODP, but we do want volunteer support from many of those in the network.


Q: If we can get this thing through, will it be a model for other states?

A: Yes.

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