Hunger Network in Ohio Director, Nick Bates, testifies on November 1 in support of bipartisan redistricting reform. Bates joins numerous other advocates calling on the state legislature to adopt a bipartisan plan to pass congressional redistricting reform. Below is a written transcipt of his testimony:
Good evening. My name is Nicholas Bates and I serve as a Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) called by the Southern Ohio Synod to serve as the Director of the Hunger Network in Ohio. The Hunger Network is an ecumenical ministry that seeks long-term solutions to hunger by addressing root causes. The Hunger Network works with the Northeast, Southern and Northwest Ohio Synods of the ELCA, the Eastern and Western Conferences of the United Methodist Church, the Ohio and Southern Ohio Diocese of the Episcopal Church, and the Central Southeast Association of the United Church of Christ.
As I finish my first full year as director of the Hunger Network, I have realized that people of faith love to be authentic about an issue, because we approach it from a position of faith and not a position of politics. Our congregations are filled with people from all political stripes and clergy appreciate the views and values that each person brings to the community.
We believe that only through authentic and honest discourse and debate can we solve some of our most pressing problems in Ohio – like infant mortality, hunger, and poverty. Most clergy that I have spoken with have voted for people in both political parties. They base their personal votes (believe it or not) on a candidate’s ability to serve the community and address the real needs that they see.
This is why we encourage you to put forward a bipartisan plan to reform congressional redistricting in Ohio. Like any good sermon, I will break it down to three main points.
Competitive districts will help us to listen to one another. As a person of faith, I am called to right relationship with my neighbor and right relationship requires us to listen to one another. Competitive districts will require candidates for office to answer difficult questions, listen to the voters, and engage their opponents in a way that doesn’t occur when seats are "safe."
Second, compact districts will encourage community. As congregations bring people together to talk about issues, we should easily know whose district we are in. At my small congregation here in Columbus, we have members from three separate congressional districts – weakening our collective voice on issues that we care about.
Finally, we need to have faith in the electoral process. Our system of democracy requires faith by the people that the process is fair. If a candidate wins or loses, we need to trust that the outcome represents the will of the people. Gerrymandering undercuts the faith needed for democracy to work.
When I preach, I wear a towel around my waist to remind me of the story of Jesus washing the feet of his Disciples – it is a story about our call to humility and service in the world. Elected officials are also servants and have a similar call to humility and service, and I believe fair and competitive districts will equip our public servants in Washington with their towel to better serve our communities.
We are calling on you today to adopt a bipartisan congressional redistricting plan that will best serve the people.
Overview of the first hearing on October 26, 2017
Overview of the second hearing on November 1, 2017
A big thank you to all the redistricting reformers! Together, we can slay the gerrymander. It's been busy! Ohioans have been collecting signatures at Halloween parties, concerts and at Early Vote. On Wednesday November 1, the Congressional Redistricting Working Group held its second public hearing.
The hearing room was packed and twenty people testified. Three people from Mercer County testified from about the importance of fair districts. Each of them were from a different congressional district!
Michael Li from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University testified that Ohio is one of the six of the worst gerrymandered states in the entire country.
Professor Ned Hill of the Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University drew laughs from the crowd describing congressional districts and testified about the problem with uncompetitive general elections:
"Drawing a set of packed and Gerrymandered legislative districts has resulted in functional disenfranchisement of unaffiliated voters and here is the looming Constitutional crisis. What has occurred in Ohio in both Congressional and state-level electoral contests is a shift in political power from general election to primaries. Today, primaries where political contests are being decided in Ohio. Left without their voices and choices are unaffiliated voters."
Mosie Welch shared her experiences "on the sidewalks of Medina County" collecting signatures. Stark County and Licking County also were well represented. Rita Kipp of the League of Women Voters of Licking County described gerrymandering as "taking the wind out of the sails of democracy."
Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio called on the Working Group to listen to the voters and support congressional redistricting reform the way they did state legislative reform:
"Some of Ohio's leading newspapers have suggested that this working group could be a ruse - an effort to convince the hard-working volunteers to stop collecting signatures and when they do, you will put forth a partisan replacement that does little to restore democracy. I urge you to prove those skeptics wrong. Ohioans should get the opportunity to vote on a proposal that would truly reform our system of designing congressional districts."
Life long Republican Don Thompson of Hilliard was even more pointed:
"It is my view that the legislative in-action - the severe lack of responsibility from within the Ohio General Assembly - has resulted in forcing many many thousands of volunteer hours to be spent collecting signatures to provide an opportunity for voters to insist on responsible congressional redistricting reform."
Cleveland.com has more on the hearing: Ohio Legislators Say Gerrymandering Needs to be Fixed but Will They Act?, November 2, 2017
Watch the hearing on the Ohio Channel.
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League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio Release a New Report Exploring Gerrymandering and History of Reform Efforts
On Thursday, October 26, the Congressional Redistricting Working Group held its first public hearing.
This bipartisan, joint committee is composed of State Representatives Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) and Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) and Senators Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Vernon Sykes (D-Akron). Huffman and Sykes were the co-sponsors of the state redistricting reform measure approved by voters as state Issue 1 in 2015.
The Working Group is tasked with gathering public input on congressional redistricting reform and proposing reform recommendations. The legislature is then expected to turn those reform proposals into a piece of legislation to be debated and voted on by the legislature in time to put it before voters, perhaps as soon as the May 2018 primary election.
During the Working Group’s first public forum on October 26, they heard more than two hours of testimony from witnesses, all of whom argued in favor of reform. Watch a video recording of the hearing here.
Witnesses included voter rights and Fair Districts campaign leaders and volunteers from around Ohio.
Read some of the highlights in news coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, and Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau.
On Thursday, to highlight Ohio’s very long history of gerrymandering and the many times the legislature could have enacted new, fairer rules, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio released a new report, “Ohio’s Gerrymandering Problem: Why Haven’t We Fixed This Yet?”
The October 26 hearing room was packed with supporters of the Fair Districts campaign, many wearing Fair Districts t-shirts and buttons or carrying signs. THANK YOU for helping show legislators how much ending gerrymandering means to Ohio!
Photos taken by Jan Underwood of the League of Women Voters of Greater Dayton.
Ohio has a long history of redistricting reform with citizen-led efforts on the ballot in 1981, 2005, and 2012. In 2015, Ohioans overwhelmingly supported state legislative redistricting reform.
Many of us are familiar with the hard work of Joan Lawrence, a Republican state representative (1982 – 1999) from Galena. In light of the upcoming hearings on redistricting reform by the Congressional Redistricting Reform Working Group, it is worth taking a look back at another proponent, Governor James A. Rhodes.
In a July 3, 1981 letter to Benson Wolman of the ACLU and Robert Graetz, Jr. of the Ohio Council of Churches, Governor Rhodes wrote:
"Gerrymandering is not a Republican or a Democrat problem. It is a fundamental problem with government that must be corrected."
Rhodes’ sentiment rings true and it is time to end the unfair practice of gerrymandering and focus on reforms that focus on the voters and creating a more robust democracy.
On October 26 and November 1, the Congressional Redistricting Reform Working Group is holding public hearings on how best to address congressional redistricting reform. The first meeting on Thursday, October 26 is at 10:00am and the Wednesday, November 1 meeting is at 6:00pm. Both hearings will be held in Room 313.
Members of the Congressional Redistricting Reform Working Group: State Senators Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Vern Sykes (D-Akron) and State Reps. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) and Jack Cera (D-Bellaire).
The Ohio General Assembly is finally taking up congressional redistricting! The legislature's redistricting working group has announced two dates when they will hear public testimony on congressional redistricting reform at 10:00 am on Thursday, October 26 and at 6pm on Wednesday, November 1 and we want you to be there. Both sessions are in Room 313 of the Ohio Statehouse.
Thanks to thousands of committed Fair Districts volunteers across the state collecting over 152,000 signatures, the legislature is taking Ohioans’ desire for meaningful redistricting reform seriously, forming a bipartisan working group to consider the issue. The Fair Districts coalition has always supported a legislative solution, provided it includes elements to ensure a fair and bipartisan process, but we need to be visible at these meetings to remind legislators of the will of the people they represent.
That’s why we are asking you to come to the Statehouse on Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, decked out in all your best Fair Districts shirts, buttons, bags, and spirit!
The legislature will also be hearing from members of the public about why redistricting reform is so important, and why it should feature key elements the Fair Districts = Fair elections coalition supports. If you feel strongly about this issue and can express why it matters to your community, you might be a great person to testify! Tell us about yourself and why you are committed to slaying the gerrymander and someone from the campaign may be in touch about presenting testimony, in person or in writing.
If you have questions about the legislative hearing please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 614-259-8388.
If you can’t make it to Columbus for either of the forums, don’t despair – you can still take action!
Fair Districts = Fair Elections! Any questions, call 614- 259-8388 or email email@example.com. www.fairdistrictsohio.org
Text DISTRICT to 864237 for redistricting updates.
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October 16, 2017
Dear Speaker Rosenberger, Minority Leader Strahorn, President Obhof, Minority Leader Yuko, and Members of the Congressional Redistricting Reform Committee:
As members of the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition, we were very pleased to learn that leadership is in discussions about congressional redistricting reform. That has been our goal all along, to reach a bipartisan solution that can be put before voters.
We are writing to express our willingness and hope that we can work with you in finding a solution that serves the interest of all Ohioans.
Based on our decades of work in this area, and talking with thousands of voters across the state, we have identified the following as essential criteria for meaningful congressional reform.
We have always supported a legislative solution and continue to do so. However, we will carefully scrutinize any proposal to ensure it puts forward real reform, not just pay lip service to the problem.
We owe it to the 152,000-plus verified voters who have signed our Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio initiative and to the nearly 3,000 volunteers on the ground across Ohio working for Fair Districts, to make sure that voters have the opportunity to vote for real reform. While we are eager to work with you to reach a mutually agreeable bipartisan solution, we will continue moving forward with a citizen initiative in order to make sure reform is enacted before the next time Congressional districts are redrawn.
Carrie Davis, League of Women Voters of Ohio
Catherine Turcer, Common Cause Ohio
Heather Taylor-Miesle, Ohio Environmental Council
Jeff Cabot, Treasurer, Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio
Dowload the letter to Ohio General Assembly leadership and the Ohio Congressional Redistricting Reform Committee
Today, the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio announced that more than 152,000 signatures have been collected by redistricting reformers all over Ohio. The following counties have reached the 5% threshold for validation: Adams, Athens, Clark, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Licking, Mercer, Morrow, Portage, Richland and Summit.
"A big thank you to all the volunteers collecting signatures," said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio. "Direct democracy is a big job and together, one signature at a time we are working hard to improve elections and representational democracy."
The following counties need fewer than 100 signatures to hit the minimum five percent: Champaign County (15), Fayette (47), Union (92), Vinton (83 ), and Wyandot (23).
Early Vote and Election Day are the perfect times to collect signatures of voters. Sign up to slay the gerrymander on Election Day.
And we want your stories! If you have tips or suggestions for signature-collections, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out this interactive graphic.
Is the End of Gerrymandering Near? Huge Crowds and Publicity Surround U.S. Supreme Court for Pivotal Case
By Carl Carnevale, law student at the University of Akron
Last week the Supreme Court heard Gill v. Whitford, a gerrymandering suit led by retired law professor Bill Whitford challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s state legislative map. The map was passed by a Republican-dominated legislature after the 2010 census. Many election law experts consider Gill to be a landmark case in the making that will decide the future of gerrymandering in modern American politics. Sensing the tremendous stakes, big names in law, politics, media, and celebrity descended upon the nation’s capital during oral arguments.
The biggest issue the court is grappling with is whether partisan gerrymander cases are even justiciable, meaning that the courts have the authority and ability to hear and adjudicate them. Courts can already hear racial gerrymander cases with authority under the 14th Amendment. A victory for Wisconsin (technically, the Wisconsin Elections Commission) could potentially close the door to such challenges forever, leaving political gerrymandering as a perfectly legal practice with politics being the only supposed remedy.
A similar case like this was brought in 2004 when Vieth v. Jeubelirer challenged a Pennsylvania congressional map. In that case, the Supreme Court declared political gerrymander cases nonjusticiable by claiming that courts have no real way of remedying them. However, this declaration did not become hard law because the Court could only manage a plurality decision (rather than a needed majority decision).
The reason for this was because Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with the plurality in Vieth but wrote his own opinion. Whereas the Court in Vieth opined that partisan gerrymander cases cannot be brought before a court, Kennedy wrote that they eventually could be if a “workable standard could be found” for the court to use in adjudicating them. The “workable standard” is the key to this year’s Gill case.
The Whitford plaintiffs believe they have found such a workable formula in the form of an independent mathematical analysis called “efficiency gap,” developed by University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and political scientist Eric McGhee. Efficiency gap measures “wasted votes,” defined as votes cast for a losing candidate or votes above the number needed to win a particular race.
The efficiency gap, simply put, is the ratio of wasted votes against the total votes cast. Whitford contends that if the efficiency gap becomes so egregious that a wide spectrum of election outcomes would yield similar results for one party, then unconstitutional gerrymandering may have occurred.
Two large questions loom over this case:
First, is math the end-all answer to gerrymandering? It’s a legitimate question. Skeptical justices have good reason to fear what may come to the judicial branch by answering yes: litigation from losing parties every election cycle claiming that a state’s maps are unfair, with each side turning post election court battles into a go-nowhere spats between each side’s “data experts.” Chief Justice John Roberts, not shy to show his preference during arguments, went so far as to dismiss the plaintiff’s efficiency gap work as “sociological gobbledygook.”
Gerrymandering is widely regarded as a terrible and destructive practice designed to deliberately eviscerate effective democracy in favor of one faction or another. But should software programs be the end-all judge of a constitutional issue?
The second (and perhaps most important) question is this:
Did the challengers sway Justice Kennedy this time around? Has Kennedy finally found the workable plaintiff in Gill that he did not have in Vieth a decade ago?
There were some hints in oral arguments to offer speculation as to the Court’s possible decision. The justices appeared split along the predictable partisan lines. Justice Neil Gorsuch likened the use of math to identify gerrymandering to the use of steak rub, suggesting a heavy preference that courts have no place to dictate states’ maps based on the parsing of numbers. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg asked rhetorically of her colleagues “what becomes of the precious right to vote?”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor tongue-tied the Wisconsin Legislature’s attorney, Erin Murphy, with one simple question: “How does [gerrymandering] help our system of government?” To Ms. Murphy’s credit, she was tasked with defending a nearly indefensible position.
Kennedy did not appear to tip his hand with his questions, but some have speculated that he is finally ready to see the court address the problem of political gerrymandering. Above The Law reported that Kennedy’s was heavily engaged during Whitford attorney Paul V. Smith’s presentation but asked no questions of the other side, suggesting that he may finally have found a proper plaintiff to tackle the gerrymandering issue.
Ultimately, most experts agree that the outcome of this case all boils down to Kennedy’s vote. Whether he has been persuaded is anyone’s guess. We’ll have to wait with much anticipation for that question to be answered. There is no doubt that the opinion will be (and should be) the nation’s top headline when it is finally published.
Check out the official transcript of the oral arguments.
From Cleveland.com’s Rick Exner Math and the Ohio Gerrymander:
This morning, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a critical case that will impact the future of fair districts and fair elections.
How is your area doing? So far 14 counties have met the minimum number of signatures needed, dozens more are making good progress, and five counties need fewer than 100 signatures.
How can you help?
- Sign the Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio petition.
- Donate to the Fair Districts campaign.
- Volunteer to help collect signatures, verify petitions, or host a house party.
Happy first day of autumn!
Even though it still feels like summer outside, Ohioans are shifting their schedules into fall activities – kids and college students are back at school, high school and college football games, harvest festivals, and more.
The Fair Districts campaign is shifting from summer to fall as well. Summer was wonderful for collecting petition signatures at parades and county fairs. Now that fall is here, people have been asking where we should focus our activity.
Here are some ideas to keep Fair Districts moving towards our goal of 305+ thousand signatures and $2 million dollars by the end of the year: