The General Assembly appears poised to propose bipartisan changes in how Ohio draws congressional districts. Good. Ohioans are fed up with the toxic congressional gridlock that results in part from U.S. House districts drawn to protect incumbents, a process that also can yield extreme partisan representation.
The determination by Ohio legislators to reshape redistricting is a sign of progress, but, to be adequate, a legislative plan must have genuine safeguards. These include ironclad requirements for districts that are compact and fair, keeping communities as intact as possible. And to win support, a legislative plan must have full bipartisan buy-in, including over federally required protections for Ohio’s African-American voters.
A thoughtful, balanced legislative solution is feasible — but it won’t happen unless the General Assembly’s redistricting working group reaches a consensus as soon as possible that includes such ironclad rules.
There’s a clear impetus for action: Change is coming, whether from the legislature or from the voters on their own, since the current approach clearly is broken. Reporting by cleveland.com’s Rich Exner comparing Ohio gerrymandering to other states has shown why change is not just possible but needed.
Right now, politically divided Ohio sends 12 Republicans to the U.S. House and four Democrats, a result of Republican-controlled congressional redistricting after the 2010 census. But the GOP isn’t the only party that plays this game.
Ohio’s current redistricting procedure, if unchanged, combined with ever-better computerized mapping, would mean district-rigging could only get easier for either party.
Already, the Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters, has been circulating petitions for redistricting reform on next November’s statewide ballot. The coalition plan would transfer responsibility for congressional redistricting to the bipartisan Redistricting Commission voters approved in 2015 to draw General Assembly districts, with some tweaks to enhance the voice of the minority party.
Despite Ohio lawmakers’ partisan redistricting track record, the legislative working group could help dispel concerns with a strong, rules-driven bipartisan plan. The Ohio General Assembly’s leaders now seemed inclined to address congressional redistricting reforms. They must.
This editorial was written by the editorial staff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or Aim Media, owner of The Lima News.