More than six out of 10 Americans believe our nation is on the wrong track, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Done correctly, redistricting reform has the greatest potential to repair what is broken in our democracy.
I am a conservative Republican and have been pushing to reform the way Ohio does redistricting since 2005. I believe gerrymandering is the fractured foundation on which our legislative branch is built.
Its a survival skill that both parties have mastered because they know that the party that controls the line-drawing process can all but guarantee the outcome of general elections.
In 2012, President Barack Obama won the Ohio vote by three percentage points. Meanwhile, Republicans retained control of the Ohio House 60 to 39 and the state Senate 23 to 10. Republicans have a 12-to-4 majority in Ohios delegation to the U.S. House. But very few of the congressional races were actually competitive.
Our system has ensured that the most consequential point in most state legislative and congressional elections is the primary, where small groups of like-minded voters decide who will represent the majority of the population that official is supposed to serve. When elected officials know they need to please only partisan interest groups and primary voters to keep their jobs, they recognize that it is counterproductive to their re-election to work across party and ideological lines.
Competition of ideas makes America great – we are shielding ourselves, and our democracy, from that healthy debate.
Although in my state it was the legislative Republicans who most recently reaped the rewards, this is not to suggest that they are guilty of any wrongdoing. We followed the process exactly as designed in the Ohio Constitution. If government is to be more responsive, it is not the people but the Ohio Constitution that needs to change.
A good plan should be simple, fair and inherently bipartisan. For Ohio, I advocate creating a seven-member bipartisan board. A supermajority, with at least one vote from a minority member, would be required to pass any map. This board would draw state legislative and congressional districts using the same rules for both. The prevailing criteria: Districts must be compact and competitive. In short, no more gerrymandering.
Some reformers believe a better route would be to create an independent or nonpartisan board and that complex formulas should be used to make all districts competitive. Though these arguments are well intentioned, I think that when it comes to drawing political districts, there is no such thing as independent, and that complex formulas created at think tanks failed when presented to Ohio in 2005 and in 2012. Different solutions can work in different states.
The answer is to create a clear and simple process in which public officials, who answer to voters, are forced into a room to work out their differences. Americans want to see more of that. It could go a long way toward fixing our broken democracy and restoring our citizens confidence in government.