Why you should vote YES…
Reading the editorial page of the Columbus Dispatch is like being in an abusive relationship. Just when you think you’re safe, you wake up, and out of nowhere you get brained. Unfortunately, unlike a battered wife, I really have to admit that it’s all my fault and I don’t know why I keep going back to him.
This Sunday the Dispatch opposed Reform Ohio Now’s issues 2 through 5. With all the thoughtful writing they’ve done on local city issues and on abuses of power, plus with the series of articles we’ve seen on Ohio’s lopsidedly gerrymandered legislative districts, I was sure they would back at least some of the issues. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be lying to my friends that “I fell down the stairs,” because this hurt and I sure didn’t see it coming.
I was not whole-heartedly behind each issue. In very brief, the issues are:
- 2: absentee voting in advance
- 3: campaign contribution limits
- 4: end party-based gerrymandering of districts
- 5: pass statewide control of elections to a board rather than the Secretary of State
I have been leaning toward opposing 2 and 3 and supporting 4 and 5.
Issue 2 allows people to vote up to 35 days before the date of the actual election. I think this is a terrible idea. While the idea of absentee voting seems nice, a lot can happen in the five weeks before an election. As we allow voting farther and farther ahead, people are more likely to miss defining events on the campaign trail, and once your vote is cast, it can’t be changed. Consider what happened last year in the 26th District where I lived: the Democratic primary was won by Mike Mitchell, who defeated his opponent by only 173 votes. But (according to the paper on March 9, 2004) Mitchell had gotten a DUI citation just two days before the election. He was also charged with going 70 in a 55 and driving on a suspended license. (Unfortunately, this didn’t hit the news until it was too late.) If people had known about this before they voted, I think he would have lost the election. Early voting costs you the chance to make important last-minute decisions.
Issue 3 is campaign contribution limits; I honestly don’t have a strong position here and I don’t want to talk about it. I think they are a mistake.
Issue 4, however, is the real jewel of this year’s reform package. Under issue 4, anyone could submit a plan for the state’s legislative districts, and that plan would be scored for its political competitiveness. The formula — which is insanely complicated (go read it) — gives higher points if a district is more evenly balanced between the two parties. The highest overall point-getting plan generally wins and is chosen by an impartial board. It’s more complicated than that, but it would end the system where last year Democrats won their Ohio House seats by an average of some 60 percent and Republicans by some 40 percent. Gerrymandering used to be more of an art, but in the last go-round, computer mapping technology had advanced so much that these crazy unwinnable districts have been much easier to draw. (I know, because I write mapping software.)
The gerrymandering in our state is really costing us, because the people who get elected just have to win their party primary, not appeal to a broad electorate. In the case of the 26th District, by the way, Mike Mitchell went on to run unopposed in the general election, and he won. (The Dispatch said that the “solution would be worse than the problem” and that “Democrats’ weak challenges to GOP officeholders have played a role in this problem.” But it cuts both ways when Republicans don’t field any candidate at all.)
Issue 5 would take election oversight duties away from the Secretary of State and give them to a board of election officials. Although a board might be less responsive, I think it would be a worthwhile step. In Ohio in 2004, as in Florida in 2000, the Secretary of State was at the center of a heated, disputatious election, and the Secretary of State was also the chairman of the Bush campaign. It presented a ridiculous conflict of interest. I understand Florida has already stripped their SOS of election duties, by the way.
I think the Dispatch does have a good point to make about the complexity and specificity of the laws, saying that “they seek to write highly detailed, prescriptive language and untested policy into the Ohio Constitution. Once there, fixing any deficiencies would require another statewide vote.” While this is true, I am not exactly holding my breath for either party to voluntarily level the playing field. Also, while issues 2 and 3 generally deal with regulation of elections and are probably better suited to being acts of the legislature, issues 4 and 5 are structural in nature and therefore do belong in our state’s constitution. As an alternative, the broad outlines of issue 4’s formula might have been put into the constitution, along with the requirement of a more detailed enabling act to be passed by the legislature, so that the variables could be tinkered with, but I’m not comfortable with anything coming out of the Statehouse these days.
Our electoral system is fundamental to our functioning democracy. Vote yes on issues 4 and 5!