Editorial: Once again, partisan politicians ignore spirit of Ohio’s anti-gerrymandering law


A recent editorial by the Akron Beacon Journal:

Are Ohio’s Republican map makers dumb or stubborn?

It’s almost certainly the latter, but one can wonder given their decision to largely ignore the Ohio Supreme Court’s guidance and issue new state legislative maps thinly disguised as being more politically balanced.

The second set of maps setting district lines for the Ohio House and Senate passed the Ohio Redistricting Commission along party lines Jan. 22. On Tuesday, the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs again asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the commission to draw better maps.

On Jan. 12, the court ruled against the earlier version of maps and ordered a do-over.

The majority opinion stressed that one political party could not be overtly favored due to anti-gerrymandering amendments to the Ohio Constitution that were overwhelmingly approved by Ohio voters.

These latest maps would give Republicans a 57-42 advantage in the Ohio House (almost 58% of seats) and a 20-13 (almost 61%) advantage in the Ohio Senate. Although that’s more balanced than the first maps, they still don’t match the voters’ preferences for Republicans (54%) and Democrats (46%) in state elections that Justice Melody Stewart cited.

OK, that doesn’t sound too far off, you might think. But the group suing the redistricting commission says that the Republicans who drew the new plan “identified districts that leaned Republican and then adjusted the district lines just enough to create districts that lean Democratic by an extremely small margin.”

In the earlier redistricting attempt, there were five districts leaning in favor of one party by less than a 52–48% margin, the Ohio Organizing Collaborative says in a news release. “The new map has fourteen such districts, all counted by the commission as ‘Democratic leaning.’”

What counts as Democratic leaning is shifty.

This is particularly true in Summit County, where three of four new House districts would essentially become toss-ups despite the county’s traditional Democratic leanings, according to data from the state. Only the proposed 33rd District is solidly Democratic, leaving a real chance that Democrats could lose one of their two safe seats.

Would three Republicans representing Summit County’s four seats be representative of the community? Of course not.

Now, if our democracy was perfect, every race would be winnable by either party. That’s not realistic in a country where people increasingly live in liberal or conservative areas, creating clusters of Democrats and Republicans.

But it’s shameful for Republicans to use software to further divide our communities by skillfully moving district lines to their advantage.

The people of Ohio would be best served by creating as many toss-up districts as possible while curtailing those with heavy partisan leans. To be fair, even Democratic maps proposed this month failed that test.

Republicans like to say they did a lot of things right. They kept the maps compact and avoided splitting municipalities. They were in a time crunch and found it hard to meet the court’s deadline.

Time has been an oft-heard excuse. We don’t buy it.

Hearings have been rushed, with little consideration for public comment.

Maps have been drawn by lawmakers’ staff members and lawyers out of the public eye, with no input from Democratic lawmakers and nonpartisan citizens.

We hope that once again the Ohio Supreme Court can prevent unconstitutional and unfair maps from going into effect for the next four years. (It would be 10 years if Democrats had found the maps fair and voted for them.)

We’re sure the Republicans will still be able to get computers to spit out something that on the surface looks a little bit better. There’s not much incentive for them to stick to the spirit of the amendment and create truly competitive districts that could lead to voters in Ohio’s larger cities having a strong voice in Columbus.

But down the road, we think fixes will be in order that make it much harder for partisans to skirt the law.

— Akron Beacon Journal, Jan. 30.