If there’s one election matter that must be bipartisan, it’s the process used to draw legislative and congressional districts.
The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission is looking at ways to improve a system that nearly everyone agrees is flawed, but both Republicans and Democrats have been reluctant to change when it favors them.
Redistricting in Ohio is currently a winner-takes-all, once-a-decade prize where the political party that wins the majority of races for governor, auditor and secretary of state draws the lines for the legislative districts.
That typically leads to one-party control of the Legislature, and has allowed, in most cases, one party to draw district lines for congressional seats as well.
In the 2012 election, President Barack Obama won the presidency in Ohio by three points, but due primarily to the way the district lines were drawn, Republicans retained a congressional majority by a 12-4 margin, the state Senate by a 23-10 margin and the Ohio House by a 60-39 margin.
Secretary of State Jon Husted has lobbied hard since 2005 for a better system, and told the commission in December that change must come if fair elections are truly the goal.
“I believe that redistricting reform, if done correctly, can be the most important reform to the Constitution in generations, because it has the potential to fix a broken democracy.”
Husted, whose own proposals have passed the House on two occasions, claims the solution is simple: Create districts that are compact and competitive through a process that is both bipartisan and transparent.
Created three years ago this month, the commission has an opportunity to revamp the system by making a recommendation to the Legislature. It would then take a three-fifths legislative vote to place an issue on the statewide ballot, where voters would decide whether to amend the Constitution.
But while the commission provides the best chance for needed reform, it has moved at a snail’s pace and has little to show for its efforts thus far.
However, a recent story in the Columbus Dispatch suggests there is growing support among commission members to create a bipartisan panel to draw both legislative and congressional districts, but that a couple details are holding up their recommendation to lawmakers.
Members are said to be split on whether the Constitution should spell out what happens if the panel is unable to reach an agreement on a map. There also is said to be disagreement over how many minority-party members are needed to approve a map — one or two.
If the details can be worked out, the commission’s recommendation could come early this fall. Since deadlines for the November election have all but passed, the earliest redistricting could hit the ballot would be 2015.
Still, the sooner the commission acts, the better. The next round of map-drawing won’t take place until 2018, but all Ohioans, regardless of their politics, deserve a better system.


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