ICYMI: Columbus Dispatch Editorial: Yes on Issue 1 for congressional redistricting plan

By The Editorial Board


April 10, 2018


As early voting begins for the May 8 primary election, Ohioans have one vote they can feel unreservedly good about casting: Yes on Issue 1. The proposed constitutional amendment to create a fairer way to draw congressional districts is the most encouraging thing to happen to Ohio politics since voters in 2015 approved a similar measure for drawing districts for the General Assembly.


Issue 1′s existence is in itself a minor miracle: Reasonable minds in and out of the Statehouse have been trying and failing to forge a deal on the subject for at least 15 years.


Credit for the breakthrough that brought it to the ballot is shared by the politicians who agreed to give up some power and the good-government groups who would not give up pushing for it. These include Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, and Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, as well as the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Common Cause Ohio and many others.


Ohio’s current method for drawing congressional boundaries is simple: Whatever party holds the majority in the Statehouse at the time of the decennial U.S. Census draws a map, and the General Assembly votes on it. That majority has no incentive to draw fair districts, and the minority has no recourse.


This system has yielded the current map in which communities are sliced and diced into different districts that snake, curve and stretch absurdly across city and county lines to create eight districts safe for Republicans and four safe for Democrats — a 2-1 split, despite the fact that the partisan breakdown of Ohio voters is more like 53 percent Republican to 47 percent Democrat.


If Issue 1 passes, redistricting will follow a series of steps:


  • Majority lawmakers still get first crack at drawing a map, but to be approved it must win a three-fifths vote in both the House and Senate, and yes votes must include 50 percent of the minority members in each house.
  • If that doesn’t happen, the bipartisan redistricting commission created in 2015 for Statehouse boundary-drawing gets to draw a map, which must win the approval of at least two of the minority members on the commission.
  • If that doesn’t happen, the legislature gets another try. To pass a map that lasts for 10 years, at least one-third of minority members must approve it. A map that gets only a simple majority could go into effect, but for only four years. Although the minority-approval requirement is weakened in this step, that is counterbalanced by the fact that mapmaking rules aimed at preventing gerrymandering — such as limits on dividing communities — will kick in.


Few things have done more to foster the division and dysfunction of government today than gerrymandering. Besides giving the majority party a disproportionate number of safe seats, it tilts elections toward the most-extreme candidates in both parties.


Gerrymandering has been practiced for all of Ohio’s history by whichever party was in power. But in recent decades, the enhanced precision of computer-aided mapping has made the practice so ruthlessly efficient and the outcome so extreme that reasonable people, even officeholders currently in the majority, saw the need for change.


Issue 1 isn’t just a matter of today’s majority party ceding some power to today’s minority; it is the legislature giving more power to Ohio voters, which is where it belongs.


The Dispatch strongly endorses a vote of Yes on Issue 1.