A decent compromise

The Statehouse Building, Ohio Capitol in Columbus, Ohio.
The Statehouse Building, Ohio Capitol in Columbus, Ohio.

Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly have made the compromises they needed to make to win bipartisan support for a redistricting plan and finally send the “snake by the lake” back into the weeds.

The compromise plan has all the simplicity and clarity of a Rube Goldberg contraption, but it just might work.

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National policy, as evidenced in the way the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a gerrymandered map in that state, is moving away from the naked political redrawing of congressional districts.

Ohio Republicans, who currently have all the votes they need to control the drawing of congressional districts, agreed to accept some restrictions on their power when the next redistricting comes around in 2021.

In so doing, they averted a controversial fight over political redistricting that would have taken place on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Republicans should be embarrassed by the map they created in 2011 to distribute the state’s 16 congressional districts. The goal of that map was clearly to send as many Republican votes to Washington as possible, regardless of other considerations. That effort resulted in the 9th Congressional District, nicknamed the “snake by the lake,” which connects lake Erie communities from Toledo to Cleveland held together at one point by a narrow strip of wetlands.

Under the compromise reached Monday, there are three ways to reach agreement on a 10-year map.

The first phase would be a vote in the General Assembly with at least 50 percent of the minority party concurring. Failing that, the second option would be approval by a seven-member commission, with at least two minority members in support. The third option is a vote of the General Assembly with at least one-third of the minority in support.

If all those fail, the majority party could impose a map for a four-year period. However — and this is where the plan finally won over Democratic members — the majority would be under restrictions against gerrymandering and excessively splitting counties, and would be required to make an official declaration to justify what it did in drafting the map, which could become a factor if there is a later court fight or referendum.

This compromise is not the outright bipartisan commission that some good-government groups wanted for Ohio. But the political reality is that their plan, known as Fair Districts = Fair Elections, would face a tough sell with Ohio voters in November.

The compromise should result in more balanced congressional districts in Ohio, instead of the current 3-1 proportion in favor of Republicans we have now. And it should also reinstate, as a high priority, geographical compactness that would keep related communities together. Ideally, there will be a northwestern Ohio district with Toledo as the largest population center.

This is a decent compromise. It passes the test that all compromise solutions must pass: The end result will be better than what exists today.

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