Monday, Sep 26, 2016
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Editorials

Redraw districts fairly

THE new Census figures are not kind to our region. Because of population shifts across the nation over the past decade, Ohio will lose two of its 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2012 election.

In Michigan, the only state to lose population since 2000, the House delegation will shrink from 15 to 14 seats. Both states will lose large sums of federal aid that are distributed according to population, as well as electoral strength in presidential contests.

All that is plenty bad enough. It will get even worse if elected officials in Columbus and Lansing, when they redraw district boundaries for their respective U.S. House delegations and state legislatures to reflect population changes, place partisan advantage ahead of fair and effective political representation.

Reapportionment in Ohio and Michigan next year will affect elections for the next decade. It will provide an early test of the commitment of both states' new Republican governors, legislative leaders, and other officials who will control the mapping process to serving all their constituents. They should resolve now to allow a few basic, vital values to guide that process.

Among those criteria are an open and transparent reapportionment process, fair representation of voters of both major parties, creation of districts that maximize rather than discourage political competition within and between parties, preservation of local communities of interest, and geographic compactness.

Those criteria don't apply now. The four counties that make up greater Toledo - Lucas, Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa - would fit comfortably in a single House district that would be both compact and politically diverse, and centered on the metropolitan area. Instead, metro Toledo is divided into two districts that sprawl across northern and western Ohio.

Other enduring effects of the partisan gerrymandering that followed the 2000 Census are even more blatant. That Republican-dominated process crammed Democratic voters into a few districts in northern Ohio, while diluting their influence in other parts of the state by spreading them thinly in elongated districts drawn to favor GOP candidates.

When a new Congress takes office next month, Ohio's House delegation will consist of 13 Republicans and five Democrats. Despite the GOP sweep in last month's election, no one would seriously argue that that ratio accurately reflects the partisan strength and preferences of voters in the state.

At the very least, next year's redistricting should not make that imbalance even worse by targeting the few remaining Democratic districts for elimination or consolidation from the start of the process.

A similar dynamic is at work in Michigan, which will have nine Republicans and six Democrats in the next U.S. House. Reapportionment likely will eliminate a Democratic seat. So if any veteran Democrat in the Michigan delegation plans to retire after the next term, it would be better to make that intention known sooner rather than later.

Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich and the Republican-majority General Assembly will control the state's reapportionment of congressional districts. The Apportionment Board, which consists of four top Republican elected officials and one Democrat, will oversee legislative redistricting. But the same principles should apply in both processes.

Ohio Secretary of State-elect Jon Husted, as a Republican leader in the General Assembly, worked on legislation aimed at strengthening the redistricting process. During his successful campaign this year, he promised reform. Mr. Husted needs to bring those values to his new office, and to persuade his Republican colleagues of their importance.

Districts with genuine partisan competition are more likely to have elections conducted in the center rather than at the extremes. When voters pick their elected representatives - instead of the other way round - political accountability increases. When apportionment does not fragment communities geographically or by interest, the effectiveness of their representation similarly improves.

No one expects victorious GOP politicians to abandon partisan interests in the redistricting process. But they still should strive to make that process small-d democratic, at least as much as capital-R Republican.

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