After Republicans drew Ohio’s new Congressional and state legislature maps in 2011, liberal groups joined a campaign to change how General Assembly districts are drawn. Additionally, Democrats threatened a referendum on the Congressional map passed by the legislature and filed a lawsuit challenging the General Assembly map drawn by a 5-member Apportionment Board. This degree of urgency was not present in 2009-2010 while Republican legislators attempted to make the redistricting process less partisan.
In 2009 the Ohio Senate passed a plan from Jon Husted (R), then a state senator, that would have required all maps to receive two votes from the minority party on an expanded Apportionment Board. For several months Husted’s plan was sidelined by the Democrats who controlled the Ohio House. In February 2010, a Democrat representative submitted a complex alternative using many of the concepts included in the current “Voters First Ohio” ballot language.
In a February 2010 column for The Akron Beacon Journal, Dennis J. Willard wrote, “Republican senators have been waiting for months on the House Democrats, and Husted has repeatedly, including Monday, said he is willing to sit down and work out differences between the two chambers and parties.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer also noted that the Democrat-controlled House took more than four months to offer a proposal after Husted’s plan passed the Republican-controlled Senate.
Meanwhile, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern told The Youngstown Vindicator, “It’s an issue most Ohioans don’t understand or care to understand. The Legislature on the Democratic side and the Republican side will both offer reform packages. …We’ll have a lot of discussion, and then we’ll focus on the economy, as we should.”
Though Republicans demonstrated a willingness to make the process less partisan, Democrats likely hoped to be in a position to draw the new maps themselves. Just as Republicans did in 2011, Democrats controlling the process in the 1980s drew oddly-shaped districts they could expect to win (see Summit, Hamilton, and Montgomery counties; Franklin County, below).
After the 2011 Congressional map had been drawn (but before a revised version passed with Democrat support), Chairman Redfern seemed far more concerned about the impact of redistricting on Ohio voters: “This map was drawn behind closed doors, by Republicans, for Republicans. It is a disservice to voters, because voters deserve fair and competitive elections.”
On its surface, the Voters First campaign makes an obvious case: whichever party is in power at redistricting time uses the once-a-decade opportunity to strengthen its position. However, the outcome of a 2010 California initiative similar to the measure promoted by Voters First suggests politics cannot be stripped from an inherently political activity — a point reinforced by the sudden focus of left-wing interest groups on redistricting reform.