Following up on the Rev. Lee Anne Reat’s post two weeks ago (Advocacy: Where Do We Stand?) about priority issues for the Episcopal Church and our diocese, this week we’re highlighting civil rights in two issues: voting rights and gerrymandering.

On Jan. 5, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) posted its 2021 priorities https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ogr/ogr-priorities-for-the-new-congress-and-administration/ including an action alert on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ministries/office-government-relations/action-alerts/  to make voting accessible to all eligible voters and to restore the Voting Rights Act protections that were gutted in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision.  This story in The Hill gives background on the bill: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/urgency-mounts-for-new-voting-rights-bill/ar-BB1cOBeM?ocid=uxbndlbing

The OGR action alert identifies partisan gerrymandering as a major factor in disenfranchising voters. The problem is well summarized as representatives choosing their voters (to ensure they stay in the majority) rather than voters choosing their representatives. Ohio will be following a new process for drawing both its state and Congressional district lines after receiving the 2020 Census results. The new process comes from citizen referenda in 2015 and 2018 that amended the Ohio Constitution. The goal is to build in transparency and accountability to ensure that districts are drawn fairly so all votes count equally.  It’s more important than ever for citizens to act at the State level since a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the federal judiciary cannot rein in partisan gerrymandering.

To get up to speed on the district map-making process and how citizens can weigh in, sign up for updates on fairdistrictsohio.org, the website of the non-partisan Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition including the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio,  which played a vital role in the passage of these reforms. Both referenda  passed in every Ohio county with large majorities.  The new Constitutional provisions create a Commission with defined members (Governor, Auditor, Secretary of State, and one member of each party from each house of the Ohio Legislature). Given the current office-holders in Ohio, the 2021 Commission will have five Republicans and two Democrats.

Citizen input will be crucial to make sure these reforms bear fruit and aren’t simply window-dressing. This starts with taking the End Gerrymandering Pledge http://www.fairdistrictsohio.org/take-the-end-gerrymandering-pledge.html and asking your Ohio Legislator and Senator to do so also. Stay tuned!  We will continue to provide updates on redistricting.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming,  and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team.