Ohio’s new legislative map sparks cries for changing the process
Once every 10 years following the completion of the U.S. census, the state of Ohio is required to redraw the congressional and state legislative districts to reflect the changes in population. The decisions on where those legislative lines are drawn can determine which political party will have an advantage in the newly drawn district for the next 10 years.
The final approval for the newly drawn state legislative districts rests with the five- member Apportionment Board. That board is made up of the Ohio secretary of state, the state auditor, the governor and a legislative member from each party. As a result of the Republican sweep in the 2010 general election, the Apportionment Board has four Republicans and one Democrat member. To no one’s surprise, last week the board approved the new legislative lines by a 4–1 vote.
The lines for the Congressional districts are determined by a bill passed by the Ohio Legislature and signed by the governor. With the Republican Party having a majority in both houses of the Ohio Legislature, the bill which emerged and was signed by the governor favors Republicans. Ohio’s shrinking population cost the state two congressional seats in the next congress. The new map approved by the legislature eliminates one Republican seat and one Democratic seat, but by packing as many Democrats as possible into four congressional districts, it creates a likely future delegation of 12 Republicans and four Democrats for the next decade.
The reapportionment system (congressional) and the redistricting system (state) are both flawed and highly partisan. One Ohio State University professor, who is viewed as an election law expert stated that the newly released map was partisan, and suggested it would be vulnerable to a lawsuit brought under an equal protection challenge in that it concentrated Democrats into only four districts in what is “basically a 50-50 state.” Other Democrats threatened a signature-gathering campaign to place a referendum on the ballot next year to challenge the plan. Other groups have been highly critical of the plan including the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, which is a coalition of nonprofit groups including the League of Women Voters and Ohio Citizen Action.
While the Democrats are loudly complaining today about the new legislative lines, prior to the 2010 election when they controlled one legislative house, the governor’s office and the secretary of state, they were presented with a non-partisan plan to revamp how Ohio handles redistricting. Then state Senator Jon Husted presented a plan which would require bi-partisan approval of the redistricting process. Fresh off their 2008 election victories where they regained control of the Ohio House, Democrats were understandably not anxious to give up the advantage that the current system offers to the party in power. So they rejected the Husted plan. Then the 2010 elections happened and control of state government shifted back to the Republicans. Today, if that bi-partisan plan were in place, it would have helped to create more competitive districts throughout the state.
Forum Question of the Week:
Should Ohio change the law which controls how our legislative lines are drawn every 10 years, in order to find a bi-partisan solution to making the
districts more competitive and the process less partisan?