latest on the initiative to end gerrymandering: Progress on the petition and hearings at the Ohio State House
Corinne Sacksteder, Maureen Welch
The latest numbers of confirmed signatures collected to end the gerrymandering and bring better representation to voters from Ohio are steadily getting petitioners closer to their goals: As of October 29, 2017, petitioners statewide have collected over 160,000 confirmed signatures (52% of the 305,000 needed) and Medina County now needs 119 signatures to complete its quota. Many more signatures are still needed to satisfy the quota and bring the number of counties to a minimum of 44.
Meanwhile the Ohio bipartisan congressional redistricting working group met again for a hearing on November 1, 2017. Citizens, petitioners and experts testified eloquently on how gerrymandering impacts their lives. Mosie Welch, who is leading the petition effort in Medina County, kindly agreed to share her testimony in this post.
Maureen Welch's Testimony before the Ohio Bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Working Group, Ohio State House, November 1, 2017:
Rep. Kirk Schuring and members of the Ohio Congressional Redistricting Working Group, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on redistricting here in Ohio. I am a retired National Park Service law enforcement ranger, a wife, a mother, a friend, and a grandmother. I spent my career protecting our nations natural and cultural resources through education, resource management, and enforcement of the laws protecting our shared heritage. As a grandmother, I have a grandchild with special needs that requires regular monitoring, doctor appointments, physical therapy, and at 16 months old due to no fault of her own she will always have a pre-existing condition. So last year after an election cycle that was so divisive and left me feeling drained with threats to our natural resources, our clean air, our health, and our democratic norms and values on the line. I knew I had to be a part of something for good of democracy, so in January I went to several sessions on gerrymandering and Fair districts so that I would be ready to collect signatures when the time came.
I live in Seville, Ohio, southern Medina County. I met a few people who were interested in collecting signatures. But when the time came, we all had to drive to Summit County or Cleveland to get petition booklets, handouts, training, and updates. That is when I decided to be a pick-up and drop-off point for Medina County through the Greater Cleveland, LWV. I put my email, phone number, and address out on the internet on the Fair Districts=Fair Elections website. At first there were just four of us collecting, but as the time went on I got calls from all sorts of people who lived in more rural areas and wanted to collect. There are twelve of us now: since June 3 we have collected at libraries, post offices, festivals, parades, community events, churches, and from family and friends. Every month the number of signatures we collect has increased. As a group, In October we turned in 715 Medina County Signatures and over 100 signatures from other counties. These people like me are looking to make a positive difference for the future; one is a Vietnam Veteran who wears his veterans cap and a safety pin, he fills as many as three petitions a week standing at the post office or library; one 88-year-old woman who cannot stand for long periods collects for two hours a week sitting in a chair she has filled petitions. A working woman who spends every spare hour finding places to collect fills petition every week. A college student concerned about his future.
So, what have I learned out there on the public sidewalks of Medina County? Most people will politely stop and listen as I tell them what I am collecting for. Everyday there are a few who hear “end partisan gerrymandering” and practically grab the clipboard out of my hand to sign. Some ask me if I am paid or where I am from and seem relieved that I am collecting in my own County and that I am volunteer. But most people ask me to explain the Bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Amendment and I show them the map on my clipboard. Certain things resonate with people.
When people look at the 2012 - 2020 Ohio Congressional District Map and talk about their districts they comment how crazy their district is drawn. They want to keep counties and communities together. People like to hear that this Ballot Initiative, in most ways, mirrors what was voted for in 2015 for their state legislative districts and that it passed in all 88 counties and by over 71% of the vote. People remember voting for it and wonder why the US Congressional Districts weren’t included. People also like to hear that there is transparency with hearings and allowing input from communities and individuals
People often sign when they hear this is a Non-partisan Initiative, not designed to help one party or another; but to help to make election day more competitive in every district and make their vote count. At this point there are people will tell me they like the “way it is now.” I ask them if they will like it when the pendulum swings and democrats are drawing the lines in their favor? Sometimes this sparks a conversation and a signature – sometimes not.
Some people prefer to read and review. I carry a copy of the Initiative and handouts, so people can go online and look it up for themselves. When I’m at the library, people will go in and look up the ballot initiative and come back out and sign.
People even sign when it is not convenient for them. Parents with babies and kids in tow at the library; people with hands full of bags and boxes going in or out of the post office; people with food in their hands at a festival. People even come to find us when we post where we will be collecting on the Fair Districts website. At every single festival there has been at least one person tell me that they came specifically to sign the petition. These people say they heard about the redistricting reform on the news and looked it up and needed a place to sign. I have even had people come to my home to sign.
I have had democrats, republicans, and independents sign the petition. I learned early on, I cannot tell what party a person is just because they sign. Just one example: Two weekends ago on the Medina Square where I was collecting signatures, a man approached and was reading the poster board about gerrymandering I had with me. He said he wanted to sign the petition and then we had a lengthy conversation about gerrymandering. I said something about it being a non-partisan issue and that both democrats and republicans sign the petition and he answered me, “Yes they do, I am republican, and I want fair representation.”
What I have learned out on the sidewalks of Medina County; from Seville to Wadsworth, on Medina Square and in Brunswick is that people are signing the petition at an average of 20 signatures in two hours, I could collect more but it is necessary to discuss and watch people sign. That is why it is always best to collect with a friend. And if I learned one thing working for the National Park Service is that it is necessary to provide people the opportunity to understand an issue and think about an issue, for them to support an issue. And I think we are educating people about gerrymandering, one person at a time, all over Ohio. People do want to talk to other people from their own community about issues, including how to end gerrymandering, which splits communities. At the end of each day that I circulate petitions, I go home feeling heartened and not discouraged because even when approaching people in a cold call, out on the street, with a clipboard in hand and wanting to discuss a ballot initiative that requires a few minutes, most people are willing to listen and talk. And that is what people want: to talk with someone from their community about issues that concern them. They want a representative from their community who will talk with them about issues that concern them.
For more on Fair Districts (updated maps and overview of the hearings at the Ohio State House: www.fairdistrictsohio.org