COLUMBUS — Out of all political issues discussed by elected officials, gerrymandering has to be both one of the most important topics affecting Ohio’s political system, and yet, it also happens to be one of the most boring.
At its root, gerrymandering involves the creation of voting districts. Every ten years after U.S. Census Bureau data is released, the Ohio legislature has the responsibility of approving the Congressional Districts that elect Ohio’s 16 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Gerrymandering happens when lawmakers influence the map-making process to ensure that elections have a better chance electing their candidate of choice.
Both political parties have used gerrymandering to their advantage in varying degrees. In fact, the term comes from the creation of Massachusetts districts in 1812 by Governor Elbridge Gerry, a Democratic-Republican, when he decided to make one long thin district that people at the time said looked like a salamander.
History repeats itself, although the actors have changed. Allen and Auglaize Counties sit within the 4th Congressional District of Ohio, which people say now looks like a duck. The 2011 maps were approved by a Republican majority.
State Senator Matt Huffman’s sponsorship of Senate Resolution 5
As a sponsor of Senate Resolution 5, State Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has been pushing the Ohio Senate to reform its laws about redistricting in order to make the process fairer. Currently, Ohio has few rules governing how Ohio’s redistricting commission creates its maps, and the final products need to be approved by the Ohio House, Ohio Senate and governor.
One of the bigger concerns discussed by Ohio senators has been how counties are split when drawing congressional districts. Current laws have allowed Ohio’s redistricting commissioners to draw elongated districts through multiple counties, such as Ohio’s 9th District, known as the “Snake on the Lake”, which cuts a long thin line from the shoreline of Lake Erie. Discussions, however, have considered eliminating this practice by limiting the number of times a county can be split, with the exception of counties with higher populations. The current map has split counties 43 times.
State lawmakers, however, have a deadline of Feb. 7 to finish negotiations if they want to put the plan on the May primary ballot.
Democrat / Republican Points of View
Republicans are pushing the charge for the latest redistricting rules under the leadership of Huffman, and they are seeking bipartisan support for the resolution. Democrats argue that limiting split counties doesn’t do enough, especially when the approval and creation of the redistricting plan would still fall under the control of whatever party happens to be in power during the Census. Democrats also want more time to consider the Senate resolution instead of ensuring it hits next week’s deadline.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.