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Our View: Fairer districts would be refreshing

Published: May 7, 2017 12:00 AM

Nothing illustrates politicians' contempt for average Ohioans more clearly than the shape of the state's 16 congressional districts.

Ohio's congressional map is among the most blatantly gerrymandered in the nation, drawn to ensure that not one of the districts is politically competitive.

The districts cynically split counties, cities, villages, townships and neighborhoods. The current map splits county boundaries 54 times. Seven counties are split among three or more districts.

The districts twist and turn like snakes and other creatures, none more blatantly than the 9th Congressional District, which slithers along the Lake Erie shore from Toledo to Cleveland.

Central Ohio's three congressional districts also are geographic absurdities, needlessly dividing neighborhoods, school districts, other governmental units and their concerns. Ohioans deserve congressional districts that respect them and the communities in which they live.

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Contorted, meandering districts, in Ohio and other states, are a prime reason congressional politics are poisonous -- as partisan and ugly as ever in modern times. They encourage extremism, discourage bipartisanship, and sabotage efforts to find common ground.

Fortunately, Ohioans soon might have an opportunity to support a statewide ballot issue to end gerrymandering in our state.

A coalition of nonprofit organizations, called Fair Congressional Districts for Ohio, has submitted a plan to the Ohio attorney general to place an issue on the statewide ballot in November 2017 or November 2018.

Once the attorney general's office validates the summary language as fair and truthful, it goes to the Ohio Ballot Board for certification.

The reform coalition then must gather at least 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters -- 10 percent of the number voting in the most recent election for governor.

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The plan should win wide acceptance, chiefly because it mirrors the reform plan for state legislative districts overwhelmingly approved by Ohio voters (71.5 percent) in November 2015.

The current districts were drawn in 2011 and will stay in place until after the 2020 census. New districts must be drawn in 2021 in time for the 2022 elections.

The proposed plan would take the map-drawing job away from the state legislature and give it to the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission. The commission would be required to draw districts that are compact, do not favor or disfavor any political party, and keep communities together as much as possible.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio, one of the coalition partners, has been working doggedly on this issue for four decades, through Democratic and Republican administrations and legislatures. The league deserves widespread support for its steadfast efforts to add Ohio to the ranks of states putting citizen interests ahead of power politics.

Details of the proposed amendment, and information on getting involved, can be found at fairdistrictsohio.org.

Fortunately, in the past year some of Ohio's leading Republicans have challenged their party to take a lead role in ending gerrymandering. They include Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted and former governors Bob Taft and (the late) George Voinovich.

Ohioans of every political stripe should embrace this opportunity to slay the gerrymander and end rigged elections.

-- Columbus Dispatch


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