Editorial: Ohio legislators have a duty to the voters to do redistricting right, transparently and by the book


A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Ohio’s voters and Ohio’s elected state officials have a solemn compact: Voters ratify or amend the Ohio Constitution – which elected officials then swear to uphold. That’s doubly true about the 2021 redistricting process now underway that will be the first test of two voter initiatives mandating a far fairer approach to how Ohio draws its congressional and state legislative boundaries.

Yes, the time frames are constrained this year because COVID-19 delayed final Census data.

But the law and the people’s will are clear: No shortcuts. No backroom or hotel bunker deals.

Ohioans, in 2015 and again in 2018, expressed with their votes that they were tired of the partisan manipulations. Their trust needs to be restored.

There’s only one way to do that – through an honest, open, lawful, respectful and fair redistricting process.

In 2015, with 71% of those voting on the measure voting “yes,” Ohioans amended the Ohio Constitution to require state officials to draw fair districts for the Ohio House and Senate. And in 2018, with 75% of those voting on the measure voting “yes,” Ohioans amended the state constitution to require state officials to draw fair U.S. House districts for Ohio.

Voters created the Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw Ohio House and Senate districts. For congressional districts, voters left in place the General Assembly’s power to draw those districts, but made the Redistricting Commission a backup.

Ohio voters clearly recognized the status quo was unjust: The congressional districts the Republican-run General Assembly drew in 2011 resulted in the election of 12 Ohio Republicans and only four Democrats to the U.S. House – in a state that voted twice for Barack Obama, in 2008 and 2012.

The public will is clear. Ohioans want fairness and an end to backroom deals.

This year, the public will have an opportunity to express themselves in person. The Redistricting Commission has scheduled 10 regional public meetings to hear from Ohioans.

… Both Democrats and Republicans can be counted on in Ohio to try to make the redistricting process as partisan as possible. But for many decades, some rough bipartisan brakes applied.

After the 1970 Census, a Democratic governor and Republican legislature drew congressional districts that elected 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats to the U.S. House. After the ’80 Census, a GOP governor and Senate, and a Democratic House, drew districts that elected 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats to the U.S. House. And after 1990’s Census, a Republican governor and Senate, and a Democratic House, drew districts that elected 11 Republicans and eight Democrats to the U.S. House. The “deciders” were bipartisan.

But after the 2000 Census, the GOP controlled the entire process and drew districts that elected 12 Republicans and six Democrats to the U.S. House. And, as noted, after the 2010 Census, Republicans drew districts that elected 12 Republicans and four Democrats. The skewed congressional districts drawn in 2011 weren’t business-as-usual in another way, given computerized map-drawing that took gerrymandering to a new level.

Some will undoubtedly suggest that had Democrats been as well-positioned, they’d have done the same. No doubt true, but also irrelevant. Ohioans – of both parties, and none – have clearly said they want fairness, and their amendments to the Ohio Constitution require it.

Now, the Ohio General Assembly needs to deliver what voters demanded. That’s especially important since this year will be the first redistricting under the new, voter-set rules. This year’s process will set the tone and establish the precedents for decades to come.

That makes it all the more imperative that, this year, legislators do it right, do it by the book, and do it with maximum transparency and respect for the process… .

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 20

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