Gerrymandering an issue for voters now in Ohio
Ohio State House in Columbus is where Republican legislators drew the gerrymandered lines the public now has a chance to overturn. | Wikipedia (CC)

Voters in the important state of Ohio will have the opportunity to vote against partisan gerrymandering, thanks to organizing by progressive, especially women’s, organizations here.

Under pressure from a wide pro-democracy coalition, led by the League of Women Voters and the labor-led Fair Districts Ballot Committee, volunteers had collected over 200,000 signatures on petitions calling for eliminating unfair practices in drawing electoral districts.

“This just wouldn’t have happened if not for the ever-present example of an active, inspired electorate mobilized to overturn the legislative attempt in 2011 to strip public workers in our state of their ability to bargain collectively,” stated Beth Taggart, director of the Ohio League of Women Voters.

The league helped lead a grassroots multiyear campaign by volunteers to push the GOP-dominated legislature to back away from the outrageously gerrymandered districts they had set up, and move to a bipartisan plan requiring buy-in by all parties represented in the legislature.  Ohio is presently one of the worst gerrymandered states.  The Ohio legislature is presently dominated by Republicans, even though they are outnumbered by Democratic voters by nearly a third.   The Ohio Senate is 24-9 GOP and the House, 65-33 GOP, yet far more Ohioans cast Democratic ballots.  213,000 signatures were turned in by volunteers, but petitions are still being collected, according to sources.

In 2011, Republicans attempted to get rid of Ohio workers’ ability to use their hard-won collective bargaining rights. Trying to slip anti-worker, right-to-work legislation past Ohioans, the GOP majority passed the disguised Right-to-Work legislation. Ohio’s unions and allies fought back, however, organizing a massive petition drive, getting repeal on the ballot and then passing it by a wide margin.  This example is now front and center for the legislative majority.  Any attack on working people results in mobilization by organized labor/allies, putting fear of God (and the organized people) into them, pushing them to compromise.

Although Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature, that body drew up model legislation that would allow creation of competitive districts, which would require representatives to negotiate, listen to both sides.

“This initiative, Issue 1, isn’t perfect,” said Tim Burga, president of Ohio AFL-CIO, “but it begins to level the field, create conditions where our ideas can be heard.  We’ve always said that if we have a level playing field, we will win because we are standing up for America’s working families.”

Issue 1 will create a legislative committee to redraw Ohio’s electoral lines keeping cities and counties together.  The map is to be in effect for 10 years, but must win muster by winning majorities from both major parties.  If this doesn’t occur, people can resume petitioning, and the governor can veto this piece.

Ohio AFL-CIO, along with groups of retirees, women, minorities and others have endorsed Issue 1 in May and they are pushing for its passage.

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Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and labor activist in Ohio.

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