DELPHOS — Only 11 days remain before “We the People” decide the fate of the nation. This general election includes a decision by Ohio voters on Issue 2, a bill highly-scrutinized and/or analyzed by both parties.
Issue 2 creates a complex system for redistricting where the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court is charged with choosing “by lot” a panel of eight Ohio Court of Appeals judges. This panel then designates 42 individuals to potentially serve on the newly-created Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission. Then, the leaders of the Ohio House of Representatives from each major party are presented with the opportunity to pare down the potential list to 24. The panel of Appeals judges then chooses, by lot, nine members from the list of 24 to actually serve on the commission. This 9-member panel then selects three more members to serve on the commission from the remaining candidates not selected by the judges.
This 12-person commission is then charged with developing the legislative districts for the Ohio House of Representatives, Ohio Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. If they fail to come up with a plan for new legislative boundaries, the Ohio Supreme Court could be charged with adopting a plan.
The opposition, Protect Your Vote, believes the right to vote is being threatened and as a voter, there are five things one needs to know:
1. Issue 2 changes the Ohio Constitution to create a permanent taxpayer-funded bureaucratic commission that is accountable to no one. It removes the right of Ohio voters to have a voice in determining state legislative and Congressional district lines through their elected representatives.
2. Commission members are not accountable to Ohio taxpayers or their elected representatives; Issue 2 provides no means for them to be removed. It also gives no authority to government watchdogs such as the Ohio Inspector General or the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate unethical and illegal behavior by commission members or their staff.
3. Issue 2 creates a large government bureaucracy, overseen by unelected czars who set their own pay and budget. It allows commission members to spend as much as they demand on permanent staff, consultants, lawyers and operating costs – with no accountability to taxpayers or their elected representatives.
4. Issue 2 is so poorly written that it does not allow for the removal of commission members for any reason – even if they commit a crime. However, it allows commission appointees to be chosen in secret, shielding the selection process from public scrutiny and subjecting it to political influence. This unlimited and untested new bureaucracy would be locked into the Ohio Constitution; if this plan does not work, it would be extremely difficult for Ohioans to change, amend or repeal.
5. Issue 2 does not take politics out of the redistricting process; it lacks a requirement that commission decisions be made with a bi-partisan, super-majority vote, allowing for bitter partisan fights, political gridlock and 1-party control. Issue 2 has raised strong objections from the Ohio State Bar Association and Ohio appeals court judges for politicizing the state’s impartial judiciary; under the plan, Ohio appellate court judges will be lobbied by special interests and political parties to pick certain commission members, who then become very powerful political players and also be subject to strong influence from special interests.
In addition, most Ohioans would be prohibited from serving on the commission due to some unforeseen circumstance, including a lapse in voting history or negative employment record of a family member. Consider these examples:
• A law-abiding, taxpaying Ohio citizen whose son or daughter earned a paid internship with a state or federal elected official is out. A convicted felon is in.
• Lobbyists are out and their employers are in.
• Ohioans who have donated $5,000 or more to political campaigns or parties over two years nationally are out. Someone who contributed $4,999 is in.
• An individual who gave $5,000 or more of their personal income to political campaigns or parties over two years is out. An individual who directs a political action committee that gave $5,000 or more is in.
The proponents, Voters First, believe the amendment will create a fair, bi-partisan commission which will fix redistricting abuse in Ohio.
1. Citizens, not politicians: Instead of the current procedures (in which politicians draw district boundaries that unfairly favor their own party and/or protect incumbents), a 12-member Citizens Commission will create the districts; any member of the public can submit a plan for consideration.
2. Openness and transparency: All meetings, records, communications and draft plans of the commission must be open to the public; no more back-room deals.
3. Balance and impartiality: The commission will include equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and Independents and the approval of at least seven of the 12 members will be required for the adoption of any plan. This will ensure that the final plan fairly represents all Ohioans, not just those currently in power.
4. Community representation: Districts will be created that are geographically compact and minimize the division of counties, townships, municipalities and wards between different districts.
5. Accountability and competitive districts: Politically-balanced districts will be created, rather than “safe districts” which make it difficult or impossible for voters to hold elected officials accountable.
6. Fairness: To the greatest extent possible, the share of districts leaning toward a party will reflect the political preferences of the voters of Ohio.
Voters First is led by the League of Women Voters and supported by a broad coalition of groups and people from across Ohio. It was created to take the power over drawing congressional and legislative districts out of the hands of the politicians and put it in the hands of the people.
For more information, visit these sites: stateimpact.npr.org/ohio/tag/issue-2-2012/; sos.state.oh.us/sos/upload/ballotboard/2012/2-language-a.pdf; sos.state.oh.us/sos/upload/ballotboard/2012/2-for.pdf; sos.state.oh.us/sos/upload/ballotboard/2012/2-against.pdf; and votersfirstohio.com/endorsements/.