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Changing Politics Involves Changing Political Process

Ohio voters who say they are fed up with the current political system often find it’s difficult to change. Many people who study politics say it’s not as simple as voting incumbents out of office. They say it involves changing the process for determining which areas are represented by which candidates. In the second of her two part series, Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports attempts to change the overall process of determining how congressional and legislative districts have proven difficult.

Common Cause Ohio’s Catherine Turcer says voters who cast ballots in May party driven primaries actually have more say in the candidates who represent them than voters who go to the polls in November.  She says it’s because of the way congressional and state legislative districts are drawn.  Turcer says the outcome of last November’s election proves it.

Turcer - If you look at Ohio, every single congressional district tilts right or left.  It tilts Democrat or it tilts Republican.  Every single one of them.  And it was a perfect predictor.  Every single district that tilted Republican ended up with a Republican elected official going to congress.  Every one that tilted to a Democrat ended up with a Democrat going to congress.

Right now, Turcer says districts are drawn in a way to heavily favor Republicans in most areas. But she says there are some areas where Democrats are heavily favored.  Turcer says it’s simply not good when Statehouse legislators draw district lines that favor one party over another. 

Turcer- If you create extreme districts, you create extreme legislators and you create extreme disfunction at the end of the day.

Turcer says the more balanced a district is between Republicans and Democrats, the more likely moderate candidates will be elected.  But she explains when districts are heavily tilted toward one party’s favor, the fight for the office in question takes place in the May primary rather than the November general election.  Republican State Senator Frank LaRose says it’s a problem.

LaRose – We’ve got a lot of people who are good men and women but they are focused more on spring elections than they are fall elections or another way of saying that, they are more concerned with appealing to a minority in their own party who tend to drive election results because of the way district lines have been drawn.

LaRose wants to change the process for drawing district lines.  And he’s not alone.  He has bipartisan support for a bill that passed the Ohio Senate last year that would change the process.  That legislation would require a panel made up of Democrats and Republicans to agree on district lines before a plan could be adopted. 

Ohioans themselves have been asked to vote on changing this line drawing process before – the last time was last year.  But each time, those ballot issues have failed.  Democratic House Representative Mike Curtin says he thinks Ohioans actually want those changes….. but they don’t realize it.

Curtin – The general public’s understanding of the gerrymandering process is not very high so it’s a very challenging educational enterprise to get the general public up the learning curve to understand why they must demand reapportionment and redistricting reform.  It takes a long time to explain why it’s such a critical element of solving this hyper-partisanship dilemma.

So in other words, instead of focusing on voting politicians themselves out of office, Curtin and LaRose agree voters need to focus on changing the process for drawing designating districts lawmakers represent so that more independent minded candidates can be on the ballot in the first place.  Democrat Curtin supports redistricting reform that would redraw the maps now and put them in effect immediately.  Republican LaRose says the rules for a new map drawing should be drawn immediately, but he doesn’t think new maps should be put in play before the 2020 census.

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