A recent editorial by the Akron Beacon Journal:
We hoped reforms Ohioans overwhelmingly supported in 2015 and 2018 would discourage political gerrymandering that splits up communities and tilts elections in one party’s favor.
It’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen as Republican leaders in Columbus exploit weaknesses in these reforms in a brutal show of contempt for Ohio voters.
Barring an unexpected change of heart, it’s clear Ohioans will need to push quickly for another constitutional amendment unequivocally giving power back to the people before maps must be approved again in four years.
That’s the likely outcome based on congressional maps introduced Wednesday as part of the normal 10-year redistricting process. They are unlikely to garner any Democratic support required for maps to be approved until the 2030 Census.
The issue is particularly acute in Akron and Summit County, which is currently split into four congressional districts and has lacked effective local representation for a decade. Summit, with a population of 540,428, is nearly large enough to contain one district of 760,000 Ohioans. Residents want a representative who works for them, who is one of them and knows the community’s needs.
But the congressional district proposal from Ohio House Republicans would split Akron and also divide Summit County into three districts that would favor Republicans, even though 54% of Summit County backed President Joe Biden in 2020. One district stretches from south Akron to the Hocking Hills in southeast Ohio.
The Senate GOP map would not divide Akron but most of Summit County would be lumped in with Portage, Wayne and Holmes counties.
It makes little sense to group parts of the state’s fourth largest county with quaint Holmes County unless you only care about muting Democratic votes by including slices of larger cities in largely rural districts.
Independent commission needed
Ohio needs a different system for redistricting both our congressional and our state legislative maps. It could be as simple as requiring 75 percent legislative approval of any map or an entirely new process run by independent experts.
In Colorado, mathematicians analyzed eight proposed congressional districts and the borders for 35 state General Assembly districts. An article released by University of Colorado-Boulder reports that the mathematicians used “computer software to dice Colorado up into as many potential district maps as possible –– hundreds of thousands of maps in all.” Those were compared to what independent commissions (one for congressional and one for state maps) crafted.
The independent commissions comprised of regular citizens are nothing like Ohio’s Republican-dominated panel made of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and four legislators. Each of the two major parties in Colorado has four members, and four members are unaffiliated.
Similarly, in Michigan, there are no politicians, the Associated Press reports. The panel is made of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents.
Like Ohio, Virginia has a new redistricting commission. The two major parties butted heads and found reconciliation tough because “two different map drawers — one with Democratic ties and one with Republican” submitted separate maps.
But one positive sign, a political scientist told the AP, is that the public at least has been able to see deliberations in the open, rather than behind closed doors.
In Ohio, leaders have limited public discussion by deliberately missing deadlines and calling meetings on short notice.
The legislature where the GOP has a supermajority is now set for the next step — when it is supposed to get the support of 60% of lawmakers and 33% of Democrats if it wants a map lasting 10 years. Only a simple majority is needed to pass four-year maps.
Can Ohio still salvage this process? Groups like Fair Districts Ohio, made up of Common Cause Ohio and the Ohio League of Women Voters, are urging the legislature to involve the public through hearings and to examine 60 maps proposed by the public.
It should be noted that this “new” process was not the first pick of reformers in 2018. After seeing the compromise with Republicans, critics stated their fears about loopholes and vague wording. Unfortunately, those fears now seem spot on.
Ohio should brace itself for a do-over. One is sorely needed.
— Akron Beacon Journal, Nov. 7