Finish the job

Ohio lawmakers did the right thing last year by revamping the mapping process used to determine state legislative districts. That proposal led to Issue 1, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the 2015 general election.

It won in all 88 counties, with 71 percent voter approval.

But the Legislature has yet to move on much-needed congressional redistricting reform, despite apparent widespread support for it.

Under the system used to determine congressional boundaries, the party in power is in charge of drawing maps following a U.S. Census update, the next of which comes in 2020. That means the district lines for U.S. House members get drawn to the majority party’s benefit, assuring safe districts for that party.

Gerrymandering, a term often used to describe the manipulating of the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class, splits communities of interest and feeds political extremism, gridlock and bitter divisiveness. It can also make incumbents nearly impossible to beat, and it turns off voters in the process.

Under the latest maps drawn by the GOP, Republicans control 12 of Ohio’s 16 seats in Congress.

But the tables could one day turn, which is enough reason the process should be changed now that the election is behind us. Lawmakers should act before the end of the year to make changes that will make future elections fairer.

If not, a coalition of voter advocacy groups likely will. The Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition, which includes the Ohio chapters of the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, among others, is already seeking public comment on the issue that could find its way to next year’s ballot.

There are two ways that could happen. The cleanest, most efficient way is for the Legislature to recommend a proposal and then let voters pass it or reject it. A constitutional amendment by initiative petition or successful signature-gathering effort, like the coalition’s, could put the measure directly on the ballot.

Gov. John Kasich and Secretary of State Jon Husted, both Republicans, among others, have said they support congressional redistricting reform.

There are resolutions similar to Issue 1 that focus on congressional redistricting reform in both the Ohio House and Senate and the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, which has been pondering the issue for three years. But none has been acted on.

But, one way or the other, reform needs to take place well before the next census in 2020.

Ohioans deserve a bipartisan, fair and transparent process for drawing district lines for members of Congress.

The Legislature took the lead when coming up with a medical marijuana bill that became law in September. That action was spurred by groups planning to take a citizen-driven version to the ballot.

Lawmakers should address the redistricting issue the same way and not wait for Fair Districts = Fair Elections to make the next move. Voters elect representatives to do the heavy lifting. In this case a bipartisan effort could provide mapmaking rules that both Republicans and Democrats can live with.



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