Thursday, February 08, 2018

Ohio's new redistricting plan is fatally flawed by partisanship

When it comes to naming the elephant in the room on big, thorny topics of governance and who doesn't like government as the main player, the answer, generally, is Republicans.

Voting ballot
When it comes to naming the 800-pound gorilla in the room on big, thorny topics of governance and who likes government as the main player, the answer, generally, is Democrats.

When it comes to naming the fatal flaw in all of American politics, as George Washington warned about when he accepted the presidency instead of being named king as some of the founding fathers offered him, political partisanship is the culprit behind our modern-day, broken and gridlocked system of democracy.

SJR5 Fatally Flawed

With the passage by the Ohio General Assembly of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that will go before voters in May, Republicans, Democrats and members of a coalition of good government types seeking a new framework to mapping legislative districts, they agreement on one thing. Senate Joint Resolution 5 would require, for the first time, bipartisan input and approval on Ohio congressional maps.

The nuts and bolts of the measure include the following three points:
  • Both major parties must be meaningfully engaged in the process.
  • Communities should not be needlessly split.
  • Rule to prohibit gerrymandering or drawing a congressional map to favor or disfavor one political party.
It sounds wonderful, this happy talk about Republicans and Democrats being bipartisan when it comes time to map out legislative districts. The fatal flaw that no one wants to talk about, because they're either afraid or oblivious to the elephant or gorilla in the room, is that SJR5, as currently configured, is created with political parties and their candidates at its center.

When partisans are in charge, as SJR5 makes them, partisans want to win. They don't want to compromise with the competitor if at all possible to lose some advantage they had that now makes them losers.

Reading the document bears our the notion that if partisans don't at first agree, then other combinations of partisanship are tried, until in the end, after all earlier attempts have failed because of partisanship, a four-year map would be drawn that would be subject to veto by the governor at the time (a partisan), or be subject to a citizen referendum, something citizens are historically not good at to begin with, even though they hold ultimate power to create a political system that works for them. Then, after four years of a map that fails, the long, laborious process that sounds good on paper but will hit potholes and ditches along the way by accident or design, starts all over.

What SJR5 should have done but didn't do, because partisanship drives all things political in Ohio and the other 49 states, was to do the right and smart thing: eliminate any participation by any political party, not just the big two majors, in the process.

That's hard to imagine today. By putting non-partisans in charge of devising maps, and maybe even voting rules and regulations that sideline partisan interests, voters would be in the position of picking their candidates instead of candidates picking their voters.

Partisan Control

In any other competitive sport where neutrality is expected and demanded, only a madman would think it a good idea to have partisan referees or judges delivering non-partisan decisions. Which Republican or Democrat would think its a good idea for the referees in an Ohio State-Michigan football game to represent the interests of either team? No one. But these same politicians think it's okay to let their political party gum up the works when it comes to delivering democracy, which is already shortchanged by massive amounts, as county boards of elections run on skimpy budgets from county commissioners who would rather spend the same buck on a rural road than give it to the local elections board. Ohio and America runs democracy on the cheap, so to speak.

One day, maybe, political candidates representing all political parties run in districts created by real neutral, non-partisan officials. When and if that day arrives, mandatory voting as an alternative to volunteer voting might also be part of the package. With mandatory voting, like Australia and a handful of other countries do, neutralizing billions spent each election cycle today would be part of the co-production of better voting. Suppressing the vote of many groups, as Republicans strive to do with the help of billionaires who fund their anti-democratic gambit, would level the playing field for all candidates, especially those representing small parties with little to no money to compete in today's rigged and lopsided election system.

Going the full voting Monty, a national or state holiday to vote would also be a valuable part of the new democracy. No more voting on the first Tuesday in November, when demands of showing up for work often win out over the civic pride and duty of voting.

Will SJR5 be an improvement from the mess in place today? Yes, because "It can't get no worse," as John Lennon said in "Getting Better All The Time."

SJR5 is still fraught with partisanship that could bollocks things up for years. But who cares enough about that to write about it?

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