By Carrie Davis, League of Women Voters of Ohio
Many of us have been eagerly watching an important gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford.
Yesterday - On Monday, June 29 - the US Supreme Court announced that they would hear Gill during the new term beginning in October 2017.
What the Wisconsin gerrymandering case is all about:
This is an exciting case to watch for redistricting reformers. While the US Supreme Court has said that it’s possible for excessive partisan gerrymandering (drawing districts to strongly favor a political party) to cross the line and be unconstitutional, the high court has never set a legal standard defining where that line might be. That’s where Gill v. Whitford comes in.
The Campaign Legal Center, who brought the case, proposes a numeric formula for measuring political gerrymandering. They call it “the efficiency gap.”
According to this paper by the Brennan Center, “the efficiency gap counts the number of votes each party wastes in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats. Any vote cast for a losing candidate is considered wasted, as are all the votes cast for a winning candidate in excess of the number needed to win.”
In other words, if a state is heavily gerrymandered to create “safe seats” that one party will win by a landslide, those “wasted votes” will have a higher efficiency gap score – and, according to the Gill plaintiffs, rise to the level of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
What this means for Ohio:
Ohio suffers from the same problem of having districts drawn to create safe seats that all but guarantee which party will win.
LWV Ohio’s 2015 report “Predictable Results II” documents how Ohio’s state and federal legislative districts overwhelmingly create predictable safe seats. (The forthcoming third edition of LWVO’s Predictable Results report, which incorporates 2016 election results, is being finalized and will be available soon.)
If the US Supreme Court decides to accept the Gill case’s invitation to establish a legal standard for what constitutes an excessive partisan gerrymander that unconstitutionally encroaches on voters’ rights to choose who represents them, that would prohibit any such future extreme partisan gerrymanders and could open the door to challenging existing maps in other states that also cross the line.
While Gill is an important case, it does not impact plans to pursue the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio ballot proposal. Here’s why:
While Gill has the potential to strike a critical blow to partisan gerrymandering, that only impacts one part of needed reform to the redistricting process.
It does not address other aspects of gerrymandering that our ballot issue does:
So keep passing those petitions and collecting signatures! With any luck, the Court will strike a blow against gerrymandering next term and Ohio voters will do the same when they vote yes on our ballot issue!
Blog post by the Stone Snowfake
Orginally posted on the blog, The Snowflake Chronicles: The Adventures of an Imperfect Activist
I did it! I collected signatures and I lived to tell! In this previous post, I described the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio pre-petition plans. Well, they're here now. And I spent yesterday morning in front of my local library asking people to sign as they hustled by with kids and books tucked under their arms.
I'm not a shy person and I don't scare easily, but I don't mind telling you that I was really nervous. I hate asking people for things in real life. Even people I know well. (One of my least favorite parts of arts administration is seeking donors. Eesh.) And now I would be standing out there explaining a seriously complex issue to people who'd rather do something else. Anything else.
But now, here I was. Not only was I collecting signatures, but I had helped organize my Indivisible subgroup to do the same. I am now the proud owner of several earth-shaking spreadsheets detailing petition books, volunteer contact info, and daily assignments at local libraries. (Remember how I said ages ago that I didn't want to be a leader? Who am I? How did this happen?)
So, being an accidental leader of enthusiastic volunteers, I sorta had to go collect signatures. To me, this seemed like a bit of a sales job. And a bit theatre. So, I thought about my audience (I'm in a rural area) and I dressed the part... I donned my American flag rugby, my League of Women's Voters of Ohio pin (non-partisan and trusted) and packed my little kit.
Me: "Good morning! Are you registered to vote here in Ohio?"
If they said no, I'd say, "Good news! I can register you right now. It takes only a few minutes." Some would brush me off or ignore me, others said they were not from here, but I did register two folks!
If they said yes, I'd say, "Good for you! An active citizen. Care to take a few minutes to put an end to gerrymandering?"
Some said yes right away and didn't need any more encouraging. Others said they wanted to read the summary, but clearly had some background knowledge.
Most looked at me like I had spoken Swahili. I'd say, "Ha! I had the same look when someone said it to me. Now I don't feel so bad... if someone going to the library didn't know, I'm in good company. If you give me 60 seconds, I can help you understand."
At this point, people would usually laugh and come over. Or they'd say they'd get me on the way out. (And most did!) So I'd do the following spiel:
"Every Ohio district gets a representative. That rep is supposed to be your voice in the government. So how district lines get drawn is really important. The thing is, right now the people in charge of drawing those lines are the same people who are your reps. As a result, they can draw people who vote against them right out of the district. Here, take a look at the map. Can you guess which district is called The Snake By the Lake? Hint- it's by the lake... haha."
At this point they see it and I show them the border and how crazy it is. Then I ask them to look at the district that runs along the eastern edge of the state and ask how likely it is that the rep who serves that area really knows the unique needs of folks near the KY border versus those along the eastern edge. I finish by showing them the weirdness in the heart of Columbus.
Then I say, "Crazy, right? This petition isn't a bill or a law. You're simply telling the government that you want a chance to vote in August for a more fair and sensible way to draw lines. For one, this initiative states that districts must be geographically compact."
Most folks are ready to sign at that point. Others want to read the summary or talk about how crazy it is. Only one man read the summary and refused to sign, saying it was too vague.
I then talk them through the signature process on the overly complex form. I usually joke that even the official petitions are gerrymandered. Haha.
Finally, I either shake their hand or high five them and say, "Look at you, saving the world today! Thank you!"
Funniest moment? One person asked me, "Before I sign, I have to know. You're a registered voter. What are you registered as? Democrat or Republican?" I had to chuckle inside when I said with complete honesty, "I am a registered Republican." She high fived me and signed. (Read here how it is I accidentally became a Republican.) I did remind her that this is a bipartisan initiative. And that it already passed the state with over 71% bipartisan support.
So, if you're in Ohio- please look for a place to sign. And remember, this is the third version of the petition. If you signed before June, you need to sign this one. And please... be kind to those hard working folks collecting signatures!
A big thank you to all of the activists collecting signatures! Together, we can improve representational democracy.
By Carrie Davis, League of Women Voters of Ohio
Attention Fair Districts volunteers! Now that petitions are in the field around Ohio, we wanted to share a few reminders about critical rules for keeping your petitions legal:
Looking for a petition pick-up location near you? Check our current listings and call ahead to confirm there are enough available, especially if you need a large quantity for an event. We are looking to expand our list of pick up locations, so if you are interested in serving as a pick up/drop off location, please let us know by completing this form.
Need a little bit more? Check out the online Petition Training on Demand. This training reviews the do's and don'ts of signature gathering. Sign up here to register and view the training at your convenience.
If you ever have questions, reach out to us - we’re here to help!
Thank you for helping make Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio a reality!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 1, 2017
David Miller, The Ohio Environmental Council, DMiller@theoec.org, 419-944-1986
Columbus, OH -- Today at the Ohio Statehouse, the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio Campaign Committee announced an official kickoff to the signature collection drive to put the issue on the ballot.
“Following the unanimous Ohio Ballot Board approval of the ballot initiative, the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio Campaign Committee is eager to get to work to ensure Ohioans have an opportunity to vote on this critical issue,” said Ann Henkener with the League of Women Voters in Ohio. “Many of us have been working on this reform for years. It’s time to get it done.”
The Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio ballot proposal is modeled on 2015’s Issue 1, which won with overwhelming and bipartisan approval from voters, established the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission, and created rules for the Ohio General Assembly district maps.
Currently, the state legislature is responsible for drawing Congressional districts and bipartisan approval is not required. Ohio’s congressional districts are among the most nation’s most gerrymandered creating “safe” seats for incumbents. In 2016, the average margin of victory for Ohio's 16 congressional races was 36.3 points. The closest race was 18.4 points.The proposed reform gives mapmaking to the Ohio Redistricting Commission and would go into effect the next time Congressional district lines are redrawn following the 2020 census.
With a requirement of collecting 305,591 signatures of registered voters in order to appear on the ballot, the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio Committee and redistricting reform advocates from all over Ohio will get to work to ensure Ohioans have an opportunity to vote for fair congressional mapmaking and more accountable representation.
“Way too often, we at the OEC find ourselves fighting legislation that runs contrary to what we know Ohioans want and believe when it comes to environmental protection,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle with the Ohio Environmental Council. “Fair districts will encourage more competitive elections that will ultimately lead to a more representative government and policies that actually reflect the will of the people.”
“For too long district lines and elections have been manipulated by one political party or the other. This has led to ‘safe’ seats for politicians, who aren’t accountable to the voters here at home. Gerrymandering ignores the will of the people,” said Sam Gresham of Common Cause Ohio. “We can’t keep waiting for the Ohio General Assembly to give us true representational democracy. Now is the time for the people to come together and demand fair districts and fair elections.”
The Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio Ballot Committee comprises Carrie Davis of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, Heather Taylor- Miesle of the Ohio Environmental Council, Ellis Jacobs of the Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition, and Jeffery Cabot, attorney at law.
The photo from left to right: Heather Taylor-Miesle, Sam Gresham and Ann Henkener.
For more information about the proposal and upcoming events and trainings, visit the Fair Districts = Fair Election Coalition’s website fairdistrictsohio.org.
This site is paid for by the League of Women Voters of Ohio, 17 S. High St., Suite # 650, Columbus, OH 43215. To contact the League, please call 614-469-1505.