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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Why do the same politicians run unopposed all of the time?

Among the contagions that have poisoned our nation’s political process, gerrymandering may be the most toxic. As a result, democracy suffers while the extremes on both the right and left of the political spectrum prosper. 
davidbetras032020
Attorney David Betras

Gerrymandering: “The practice of dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections.”

Loophole: “An ambiguity or inadequacy in a system, such as a law or security, which can be used to circumvent or otherwise avoid the purpose, implied or explicitly stated, of the system.”

Among the contagions that have poisoned our nation’s political process, gerrymandering may be the most toxic. 

When members of the party empowered to redraw state legislative and Congressional boundaries following each decennial census do so in a way that makes districts impervious to challenge from the opposing party, democracy suffers while the extremes on both the right and left of the political spectrum prosper. 

While I will refrain from naming names, it is widely recognized that there are members of both parties occupying seats in legislative bodies who would not be there were it not for gerrymandering. But there they sit, obstructing, obfuscating, inciting and generally polluting and infecting the body politic because they know they will never have to face a viable candidate in a general election.  

Fortunately, Ohioans are not stupid. When it became painfully obvious that the electoral game was both rigged and rotten, they voted to change the rules by supporting two amendments to the state Constitution that would, according to supporters, kill off gerrymander as the fabled St. George slew the dragon.

If only it was so easy. 

As the state legislative and Congressional maps drawn under the new and allegedly non-partisan redistricting and reapportionment processes clearly demonstrate, the amendments are rife with cavernous loopholes that will keep the monstrous gerrymander alive for decades to come. Chief among them: The provision that enables the majority party in the General Assembly to ignore every provision of the amendments and adopt maps that will be in effect for four years instead of 10. 

The six-year difference was touted as a penalty that would force the members of the majority party to remain true to both the spirit and the letter of the law. But here is the thing the folks who wrote the amendments hoped everyone missed: Drawing non-competitive districts guaranteed the majority party would still be the majority party when the lines expired so they would be in a position to ignore the law again and again.  

Voting rights groups have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to toss out the General Assembly maps that have been adopted by the majority. This came as a surprise to no one, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine who said “We know that this matter will be in court. I’m not judging the bill one way or another, that’s up to a court to do. What I am sure in my heart is that this committee could have come up with a bill that was much more clearly, clearly constitutional and I’m sorry we did not do that.”

It is highly unlikely that the Court will reject them. And that means votes cast by residents of the Valley and millions of other Ohioans will continue to mean little for years to come.

And while that undermines our democracy, I cannot help thinking that may have been the intent of the powerful interests who set up this dysfunctional system all along.

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.

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