Every 10 years, the fight begins on how Ohio’s legislative districts will be chopped up to benefit the party in power.
If your party didn’t win any of the needed statewide seats, you just don’t get a voice in how Ohio’s sliced and diced to govern.
That could all change, though, if voters approve State Issue 1 in November.
The issue, led by Matt Huffman, a Republican former state representative from Lima, and Vernon Sykes, a former Democratic state representative from Akron, changes the way politicians gerrymander the state representative and senate seats in Ohio in a subtle but powerful way.
It creates a seven-person, bipartisan panel, including the governor, auditor, secretary of state and four members, with two appointed by the majority party and two by the minority party in the General Assembly. Before anything passes out of the group, four of those seven people have to endorse it.
The change to the Ohio Constitution gives a powerful veto to members of the minority party. If the minority party doesn’t like the proposed lines, the map has to be revisited in four years.
That minority party could be the majority party in four years, if there’s a change in who’s sitting as governor, secretary of state and state auditor. And given Ohio’s history of being a battleground state, that’s certainly a possibility.
The proposed system offers a real incentive to the members of the redistricting board to truly pause and draw as fair of districts as possible. It also has an openness to it you don’t see now, with this board’s meetings being opened to the public so taxpayers can truly see what’s behind the maps.
It doesn’t eliminate the spoils system, but it will make it a lot easier to see when people are playing politics and when they’re truly trying to design a fair map.
It also has rules built in to try to avoid splitting a political subdivision into unnecessary parts. Anyone living in Auglaize County, which is represented by three different state legislators depending on how far east or west you live despite only having 45,920 people in 2013, should appreciate that simplicity.
The change has its limits. It only addresses state representative and state senate districts. Its backers realized trying to apply the same principles to congressional districts would be too complicated and too politically unwieldy right now. It doesn’t really account for third parties very well either.
Still, when a diehard Republican such as Huffman and a diehard Democrat such as Sykes can get together and see its benefits, we should all consider voting for it. The issue already has the backing of other groups that would seemingly be at odds, including business and union leadership.
It has the added benefit that current state senators and representatives won’t be directly affected, since the first time with the new process would be after the 2020 Census comes back. Even the people holding those districts now have spoken in favor of the change.
We support this step in the right direction and encourage the leaders to continue finding ways to apply these same common-sense principles to the congressional districts. We heartily endorse State Issue 1.