Election reform can counter political dysfunction

For example, many Americans deride the practice of drawing safe Republican and safe Democratic legislative districts that produces polarized candidates, reduces real competition and leaves voters without choices on Election Day.  Many share visceral reactions at the idea that one party in control can “stick it” to the other party when they draw district lines for the next decade.

There are reforms that can minimize or remove the partisan biases inherent in redistricting. A number of states have moved the drawing of political lines out of the regular political process. Reforms that take the process away from the legislature and give it to bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions, as now happens in eight states, are worthy of discussion.  Other reforms could guide how states draw congressional districts, including requirements for compactness, preservation of boundaries of political subdivisions like towns and counties, and promoting electoral competition that would also add some consistency to the process.

ADVERTISEMENT
Like redistricting, political primaries can lead to more extreme voices in our political discourse.  Since the primary election often determines who gets to compete in the general election, many voters are forced to choose between far right and far left candidates that do not quite fit their beliefs.  Primary reforms that improve dismal voter turnout rates and lead to a more transparent, inclusive process have been tried in other states with some successes and some failures.  Officials committed to fair election processes should at least be willing to learn more about available options.

Finally there remains an underlying and fundamental expectation of fairness in the rules of elections and how they are administered.  At the end of the day, reforms to election administration that result in higher confidence in the integrity of the system and that guarantee the highest possible access to the voting booth for all eligible citizens must be up for consideration in Ohio and across the country.

It is with these three general areas in mind that the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform—a bipartisan group of former state and federal government officials and nonprofit and religious leaders—comes to the Ohio State University today (Oct. 15) to discuss changes to our electoral system that make the American political system function better in a polarized political climate.

The commission will hear from former Ohio Governors Ted Strickland and Bob Taft, Ohio’s chief election official and Secretary of State Jon Husted, and numerous other national figures as it debates potential election reform recommendations to improve our political system generally.

Instead of lamenting gridlock and partisan paralysis, our commission seeks solutions from both sides of the ideological spectrum interested in moving the debate forward.  The concrete and achievable electoral reforms we will discuss today, and on which Ohio can lead the way, will be another step toward improving the nation’s congressional gridlock and electoral system dysfunction.

Bonilla represented Texas' 23rd Congressional District from 1993 to 2007. Gonzalez represented Texas' 20th Congressional District of Texas from 1999 until 2013.  Both are members of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform.