In the fight to end the practice of gerrymandered-legislative districts, both for Ohio General Assembly seats and congressional districts, state lawmakers have generally gotten on board in the last few years — though both times it was clear they’d have been begrudgingly dragged along anyway by voter initiatives if they hadn’t cooperated.
But too many of those lawmakers are breathing a sigh of relief after a ruling last week putting on hold an admittedly rushed process to redraw congressional districts prior to 2020.
Earlier this spring, a three-member panel of federal judges in Ohio ordered the new map for the 2020 election, determining Republicans who controlled the redistricting process at the time unconstitutionally created districts to guarantee their party’s dominance — Ohio has just four Democrats in Congress and a dozen Republicans, even though the state has been traditionally thought of as purple and the overall vote totals between the parties were much closer.
State and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, meaning in time for the 2022 election — however, the judges had threatened to redraw the map themselves if it was not done in time for the 2020 election.
On May 24, the Supreme Court stayed the ruling, which had imposed an unnecessary and arbitrary June 14 deadline to redraw the Congressional Districts. The Court stopped a similar order Michigan as well. Presumably this was done because the high court is reviewing gerrymandering cases from Maryland and North Carolina — with a decision expected by the end of June — that could affect redistricting nationwide.
The rushed June 14 deadline was never realistic and would likely not have led to a well-thought out or drawn map. But the high court ruling doesn’t mean the districts couldn’t or shouldn’t be redrawn prior to the 2020 election.
We have long-opposed the overly political map drawing that both parties have used over the years to focus on maintaining electoral advantages rather than serving the needs of the voters. Districts often make little geographic or demographic sense, dividing counties and communities, such as a district that stretches along the eastern border of the state from Mahoning County all the way down south to Athens County more than three hours away. Gerrymandering is a key way to protect incumbents — but drawing “safe” districts also makes primaries the real battle, which in turn drags lawmakers further to the extremes and makes compromise an even harder proposition in Washington.
Opponents of the lawsuit that prompted the federal judges’ ruling have repeatedly claimed the voter-driven initiative passed in 2018 needs to be given time to work. But just because voters passed a law altering the map drawing process doesn’t mean we have to wait to fix the ills of the past — Issue 1 is a start, not something perfect. It will limit how counties are split into multiple districts and require more support from the minority party to put a 10-year map in place — but if that fails the majority party can pass a shorter-term map.
Hiding behind Issue 1 and saying the maps can’t be improved until it goes into affect with 2022 redistricting feels like a cop out. The current map has been ruled unconstitutional, and seeing Ohio lawmakers and the Ohio Attorney General fighting back against it as hard as possible still leaves us feeling partisan politics — and not what’s best for voters — sadly still rules the day.