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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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Now is the Time to Change the Way Ohio
Draws Legislative Districts
This coming year, two events will take place that will help shape the face of Ohio’s political landscape for the next decade – the 2010 census and the statewide elections this November. This is important because the results of the census will determine the number of seats Ohio will have in Congress. The number of people in each Ohio Senate and Ohio House district is also based on an equal distribution of the state’s population.
In addition, the winners of the elections for governor, auditor of state and secretary of state determine the members of the Apportionment Board, which is responsible for creating the maps of Ohio’s legislative districts every 10 years based on the results of the federal decennial census. This process is scheduled to take place next year, and both political parties have a vested interest in the outcome, as the party in power can draw maps that favor its own candidates. This system has been in place for decades and has long been criticized for promoting one-party control of state government and hyper-partisanship, with those in power having more of a say in determining who gets elected than the voters themselves.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Ohio Legislature is currently considering a proposal that seeks to change the methods used to draw Congressional and legislative districts to make elections more competitive and put the power back in the hands of Ohio voters. Last year, the Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 5, which was sponsored by Senator Jon Husted (R- Kettering). SJR 5 would replace the Apportionment Board with a seven-member bipartisan redistricting commission responsible for drawing legislative districts.
The redistricting commission would be composed of the governor, auditor of state, secretary of state, the Speaker of the Ohio House, the President of the Ohio Senate, and the minority leaders from each chamber. This is different from the current makeup of the Apportionment Board, which includes only two members of the Ohio General Assembly – one from each party. To approve any new redistricting plan, a five-vote majority is required, with two of the five votes coming from the minority party. This change would ensure that any new plan is created through bipartisan cooperation and that all opinions are heard and taken into consideration.
When drawing Congressional and legislative districts, SJR 5 requires them to be compact and to keep communities together whenever possible. The plan also calls for the commission to try and maximize the number of competitive districts, eliminating the ability of drawing districts that favor one party over another, as has been the case in the past.
To help further increase transparency in the redistricting process, any Ohio resident would be able to submit a Congressional or legislative plan for consideration by the commission. Additionally, once a plan has been adopted by the commission, the members must prepare a public report detailing the methods and reasoning used to create the district maps.
Given the prominent role Ohio plays in our nation’s elections, it is imperative that the system we use to draw legislative districts be fair and balanced instead of one that rewards those in power. Other proposals to reform the redistricting process have been introduced in recent years, and I believe that now is the right time for the Legislature to take on this issue – before the census results are in and before this fall’s elections are complete. Time is of the essence, however, as SJR 5 must be passed before February 3 if it is to be placed on the May ballot for consideration by voters.
SJR 5 is currently under consideration in the House Elections and Ethics Committee, and members of the Ohio House are also working on their own redistricting proposal. I am hopeful that legislators from both chambers will come together in the coming weeks and develop a redistricting plan that is more accountable, less partisan and makes for more competitive elections.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about any state-related matter. You can reach my office by phone at (614) 466-9737, by e-mail at SD07@senate.state.oh.us or by writing State Senator Shannon Jones, Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215. I look forward to hearing from you.