Ballot could help competition

Josh Comer and Josh Comer

On the approaching Nov. 8 ballot, Ohio voters will decide which is more important to the democratic system – competition or accountability.

Issue 4, a proposed constitutional amendment, would shift the responsibility of drawing legislative districts from politicians to an independent commission. This newly created panel would be accessible to the public, accepting redistricting plans from residents and conducting open meetings.

The members of Reform Ohio Now, a group that worked to put Issue 4 on the ballot, say the current system hinders competition. During a visit to the University, Bill Asher, author of Issue 4’s petition and professor at The Ohio State University, said the shaping of legislative districts by politicians to encourage their own re-election must be stopped.

“Competition is crucial, and the structuring of districts by politicians excludes people from the electoral process,” Asher said. “Incumbents have an almost insurmountable advantage.”

Asher said last year’s election results are proof of this advantage, and served to inspire Reform Ohio Now’s call for change.

On Nov. 2, 2004, no congressional or state senate seats changed hands in Ohio.

Another set of influential figures have played a role in Reform Ohio Now’s campaign to add Issue 4 to the state constitution. In Congress, 12 of the 18 Ohio delegates to the House of Representatives are members of the Republican Party.

While Reform Ohio Now is not officially endorsed by the Democratic Party, Issue 4’s potential infringement on the power held by republicans at the state level has caused it to carry a partisan message. For democrats it is a call for competition, and for republicans a plea for accountability.

In spite of the political conflict which surrounds Issue 4, many in the University’s political science department are in favor of Issue 4.

“I make it a point to tell my students that, at the state level, we currently have the least democratic system in the world,” said Jeffrey Peake, associate professor of political science.

Peake, who labeled himself as the most conservative political science department faculty member, said no reasonable argument can be made to oppose Issue 4.

In spite of that declaration, significant opposition to the amendment can be found throughout Ohio.

Members of the Ohio First Voter Education Fund say that an independent commission would be a new bureaucracy – devoid of accountability to the public for their decisions.

Keary McCarthy, Reform Ohio Now’s press secretary, said if that were the case it would be against the principles of the legislation.

“Our mantra has always been ‘Keep and hold politicians accountable,'” McCarthy said.

Another criticism of Issue 4 made by Ohio First members is the possibility of less minority representation in government. This may be the result of dividing largely democratic African-American populations. These minority voters currently control the Ohio districts centered around Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo.

Asher said the opposite of that effect is likely to occur.

“There will be at least two new congressional districts in Franklin and Hamilton counties where African-Americans will be encouraged to run and stand a good chance of winning,” Asher said.

To Asher and Peake, these indictments – drawn largely along party lines – demonstrate the importance of Issue 4.

“When redistricting is a political process, the importance of choosing candidates falls on primaries,” Asher said. “The noncompetitive districts force democrats far to the left and republicans far to the right in order to appeal to the voters in the heavily weighted districts, leading to increased partisanship.”