It’s time to end Ohio’s gerrymandering

Editorial from the Akron Beacon Journal:

In cartoons, characters often search for treasure with a map in hand.

In Ohio, political maps featuring cartoonish shapes likely lead to treasure or a dead end based solely on a candidate’s party. The maps have been a treasure for political fat cats and a confusing mess for the average citizen.

We are of course talking about the political maps of congressional districts and state legislative districts. Some of the cartoonish shapes include the snakelike 9th Congressional District along Lake Erie and the ducklike 4th District that includes Oberlin and Urbana.

Regardless of shape, the districts drawn after the 2010 census are hardly comical. They are maddening and divisive.

Summit County is split into four congressional districts. Overall, Ohio Republicans who drew the maps robbed Democrats of any chance to send more Congress members to Washington. One analyst says the House delegation would have nine Republicans and seven Democrats instead of a 12-4 group if extreme gerrymandering hadn’t taken place.

Republicans in charge of redistricting gave themselves a huge reward with little regard for their constituents. They also kept the Greater Akron area from having a true voice in Congress.

With 2020 census data in hand, Ohio’s political leaders now have a chance to put some realism into Ohio’s district maps. Change is unavoidable — because of slow population growth, the state is losing one congressional district.

Ohioans also amended the state Constitution twice with this year’s district-drawing process in mind. Better districts are not just a hope from beleaguered voters; they are a mandate.

According to the law on drawing congressional districts, it will be up to map makers to determine which counties can be split. Only five counties may be split more than twice.

While the law should clean up Ohio’s map mess, how lawmakers interpret its wording is crucial. Will they try to bend the rules on public input, citing the crush of time created by the COVID pandemic? Will they try to split Akron, even though our reading suggests they can’t?

If lawmakers face gridlock on congressional districts, the result could be a four-year plan that reflects the wants of the Republican supermajority rather than a thoroughly debated 10-year plan. The legislature faces a Sept. 30 deadline for approving a bipartisan plan.

If lawmakers fail, the Ohio Redistricting Commission, a seven-member panel of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and lawmakers, will have a chance to draw the congressional map. The commission also will draw state House and Senate districts. The panel is charged with working with the public, and one of its public hearings will be held at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 27 at the University of Akron.

If the commission fails, lawmakers get a second chance with a lower standard for bipartisan support. A four-year plan that would be highly partisan is unacceptable and must be avoided.

The Ohio League of Women Voters encourages input beyond the 10 hearings to be held later this month. Ohioans can submit their own maps as well, although it has not been announced how this will take place.

We encourage residents to contact their legislators.

… Map makers have a duty to give the public districts that will allow them to have a clear voice in the state and national capitals. When it comes to extreme gerrymandering, it’s time to say “that’s all, folks.”

— Akron Beacon Journal, Aug. 15