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Ohio League of Women Voters seeks to end gerrymandering

 

 

By SUE BOTOS

ROCKY RIVER – There’s a reason the term “gerrymander” sounds like salamander. According to a popular tale, Eldridge Gerry, Massachusetts governor from 1810-1812, signed a bill that redistricted the state to benefit his Republican Party, to the dismay of the opposing Federalists. One district was said to be shaped like a salamander, to which a Federalist replied, “No, it’s a gerrymander.”

Mary Kirtz Von Nortwick, co-president of the Ohio League of Women Voters (LWV) recalled this story recently for an audience at the Rocky River Public Library. She continued that the practice of manipulating political districts to project the outcome of elections is as popular as ever in most states, with Ohio being one of the worst. The league, in collaboration with numerous other civic organizations, is working to end these strangely twisting configurations through “Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio, a bipartisan citizen-led movement to end gerrymandering in the state.

According to information provided by the LWV, Ohio’s gerrymandering had its beginnings in 1967 when a constitutional amendment was adopted authorizing an appointment board to draw boundaries for the state House and Senate districts. The measure did not address Congressional districts, which continued to be drawn by the Ohio General Assembly. Over the years, various attempts at reform have been made.

“In 2015, we fought for and passed Issue 1 creating the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw state legislative districts. Our proposal adds Congressional districts as well,” Von Nortwick stated.

“Every ten years, the U.S. Census is conducted to measure population changes. All districts must have the same population according to the U.S. Supreme Court,” she further explained, adding that Ohio is expected to lose a congressional seat by 2020 and will be redistricted.

Von Nortwick elaborated that gerrymandering can be accomplished through “packing,” where the majority party loads voters into a district, and “cracking,” distributing minority party voters so they have little impact.

As an example of cracking, Von Nortwick showed a map of Akron which is represented by four different members of Congress.

“You can see how ridiculous it is. As computers get more sophisticated, it gets to the point where the other party doesn’t stand a chance.”

She also pointed out Democrat Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s District 9, “the snake on the lake,” which hugs the Lake Erie shore from Toledo to Cleveland and includes part of Rocky River, which is also represented in Congress by Republican Jim Renacci. “At one point, it’s connected by a bridge, not even land,” Von Nortwick added.

Because of gerrymandering, Von Nortwick said predictions of Republican wins in the last three Congressional elections have been correct. “The other party either does not run a candidate or runs a weak candidate because there is no competition,” she stated.

Under the Fair Districts proposal, Von Nortwick said that Congressional districts would be drawn up by a bipartisan body, and the resulting map cannot favor one party or candidate over another. In addition, districts must be kept compact by minimizing the splitting of counties, municipalities and townships, with no county being divided more than once.

“Most important to us is being open and transparent and accountable to the public,” Von Nortwick stressed.

Responding to an audience question about involving courts in the fight against gerrymandering, Von Nortwick said several years ago the Florida LWV brought a suit to the state Supreme Court and won.

“We do not want to go the court way,” Von Nortwick stated. “We want the citizens involved as much as possible. If not, we may go to court.”

Von Nortwick continued that almost every state has been gerrymandered. “For the most part, both parties have engaged in this equal opportunity power grab. The only way to stop it is through the people.”

For more information about the Fair Districts Proposal, visit fairdistrictohio.org.

 

 

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