EDITORIAL: New plan to end gerrymandering could level playing field

How political districts for state and federal offices get drawn this year will be different from how it was done 10 years ago, and 10 years before that. Gerrymandering — the to-the-victor-go-the-spoils approach previously employed — has been ditched, mostly, for a new plan designed to make the process more fair, more equitable and more sensible.

On May 8, 2018, voters in Ohio approved a constitutional amendment establishing new procedures for Congressional and state office redistricting. Beginning with the 2020 redistricting cycle, instead of the dominant party in the statehouse having the last, last word on drawing the boundaries, a bipartisan commission will do it if members of the Ohio House and Ohio Senate cannot reach a bipartisan agreement on how the maps should be drawn.

That means 50 percent of Republican and 50 percent of Democrats in the state House and state Senate must approve any map proposed by legislators or a bipartisan committee will draw up a map seeking a bipartisan vote. If that fails, the duty reverts to lawmakers but any map that gets adopted will be approved for just four years, not 10.

When districts are gerrymandered, a practice employed by both political parties whenever they have the power to do it, maps get drawn based on demographics from race to occupation, and the final vote totals for candidates and percentages in a district are as predictable as it is true that tomorrow the sun will rise and set. Grouping residents by race or occupation, by urban and rural categories and by other characteristics, is designed to create majority and minority blocks within districts.

It’s why U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s district is shaped like a duck and stretches 151 miles from Lorain County to near the Indiana border. It’s why the boundaries of most federal districts squiggle and squirrel across multiple counties without apparent reason. The reason districts are drawn like that is a desired result: Elections decided by map maker-lawmakers with a partisan goal, those with the power to draw boundaries win, all the time.

With the division and spite there is in the electorate today, we’re not sure a vote about redistricting would have received the same level of voter support. But if ever there was a time when voters in Ohio, and across the country, needed assurance that our political process is fair, it’s today. In this post-2020 election world, voters need reassurances from every point of authority as is possible.

— Youngstown Vindicator, Feb. 3