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Published: Monday, 8/29/2011

Remapping Ohio

Ohioans finally have a map that shows how the boundaries of state legislative districts can be redrawn to make them more compact and competitive. The map didn't come from the state panel that is charged with redistricting the General Assembly.

The Republican-dominated board isn't likely even to acknowledge the map's existence. That's what's wrong with the reapportionment process.

Once a decade, the Ohio Apportionment Board adjusts legislative districts to account for population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. Typically, whichever party -- Republican or Democratic -- has a board majority uses that advantage to draw districts to gain seats in the state House and Senate.

This year, four of the five board members are Republicans: Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Auditor Dave Yost, and Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond). House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D., Beachwood) is the only Democrat.

Among the Republicans, only Mr. Husted has expressed interest in making the process less partisan. Mr. Budish proposed several rule changes designed to expand public participation and make the process more transparent and less partisan. Republicans rejected them.

The apportionment board just completed hearings across the state that offered the illusion of public input. But without even a tentative map to display, the hearings were little more than an exercise in failed public relations.

The meetings were poorly attended by citizens who know they have no real voice in the process. No one showed up for last week's hearing in Canton.

Gerrymandering districts to maximize the political clout of either party is bad for democracy. It polarizes voters and encourages lawmakers to govern from the extremes rather than to seek consensus and compromise in the middle.

When that happens at the state level, the result is the all-or-nothing partisan battle that surrounds Senate Bill 5. At the federal level, you get a minority of Republican lawmakers nearly pushing the nation into default in the debt-ceiling debate. That resulted in the first-ever downgrade of America's credit rating.

Into the state's breach stepped the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, a coalition of good-government groups including the Ohio League of Women Voters, Ohio Citizen Action, and Common Cause. They sponsored a contest that asked the public to draw redistricting maps that would enhance partisan competition, split as few counties and communities as possible, and reflect the true political makeup of the state.

It turns out that creating legislative districts that strengthen the two-party system and encourage reasonable political debate isn't difficult, once the politics are removed.

The top-scoring map was drawn by Mike Fortner, a Republican state representative -- from Illinois. His plan increases the number of competitive districts in the 99-member Ohio House from 30 to 35 and in the 33-member Senate from nine to 14.

Mr. Fortner's map, and other winning entries, are available for anyone -- including Apportionment Board members -- to see at drawthelinemidwest.org/ohio/legislativewinners. But real change won't happen until Ohio voters demand that the partisan redistricting system is replaced with an objective, nonpartisan process.



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