By Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio
On August 25, the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University held a forum on redistricting reform and voting rights. Columnist and journalism Professor Thomas Suddes moderated a panel which included State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, State Senator Frank LaRose and, Professor John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) and Rep. Michael Curtin (D- Columbus) introduced a resolution to reform congressional redistricting reform in the Ohio House of Representatives. Senator Frank LaRose (R-Hudson) and Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) have introduced a resolution in the Ohio Senate. Both of these resolutions are similar to Issue 1 of 2015 which instituted state legislative redistricting reform. Despite the overwhelming support for state legislative redistricting reform last fall, neither of these resolutions have received a hearing.
Professor Suddes kicked off the discussion with a history lesson about the original gerrymander. Rep. Clyde noted that, “We are in a time of incredible polarization” and tied congressional gridlock to gerrymandering. She also highlighted the need for voter education because of the passage of state legislative redistricting reform, “There’s some confusion out there. Some voters think we’ve already taken care of this.”
Professor John Green described gerrymandering as “nothing new” but “it’s become a much more pressing issue.” According to Green, computerized mapmaking as led to even more hyper-partisan districts, “With computers we can draw district lines with great— almost mind numbing— precision. It isn’t that Elbridge Gerry wouldn’t have wanted to do that, it’s that he couldn’t.”
He identified congressional redistricting reform as likely, “I think that we may have reached one of those points where men and women of good will, of very different political ideologies, none the less, agree that the problem has become very severe. And the time has come to have reform.”
Senator LaRose recommended that the audience “evangelize” about the need for congressional redistricting reform and said, “We have to start with why it matters. Your neighbor or John Q. Public, the person you see at work or wherever else— they may not know why it matters…. The way that the districts are drawn causes polarization and dysfunction… all kinds of problems in state and federal legislative bodies.”
He called out members of Congress, “There are really 16 people who are most opposed to changing this process,” and identified why he himself cares about gerrymandering, “I would rather be part of a party that wins elections based on the quality of our ideas and the quality of our candidates, and not win elections by rigging the system.”
He also reminded the audience that both political parties have engaged in gerrymandering.
Based on legislative inaction, Rep. Clyde shared support for bringing congressional redistricting reform directly to voters or a citizens’ initiative or putting the issue before the voters through signature-gathering. Professor Green described the current political season as “very busy” but “next year—no matter what happens—2017 offers a real opportunity.”
Learn More about Redistricting at Event on October 7
David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, will explain why the most recent gerrymander was different from any in modern political history. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland, this free opportunity to meet the author, will be at 7:00pm at the Westshore Unitarian Universalist Church, 20401 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, Ohio 44116, on Friday, October 7, 2016.