In the lame-duck session that ended last week, state senators gave welcome, near-unanimous approval to a simple, practical plan to reform the way Ohio redraws congressional and legislative districts. Although the Ohio House did not have time to act, the Senate set the stage for quick movement early next year.
The 32-1 vote showed bipartisan support for the work of a legislative task force that included Sens. Frank LaRose, a Copley Township Republican, and Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat. Instead of the approach taken by proponents of state Issue 2, an overly complicated measure that would have created a citizens commission, the task force wisely followed the work of Jon Husted, the secretary of state, when he was a member of Senate. Voters soundly defeated Issue 2 on the November ballot.
What emerged from the Senate is based on the reality that it is impossible to remove politics from an inherently political exercise. The Senate plan for a constitutional amendment would expand the board now charged with creating legislative districts, giving it the task of congressional redistricting, too. That is now done by the legislature.
The new Ohio Redistricting Commission would include the governor, auditor and secretary of state. Instead of two legislative members, from opposite parties, the commission would include four appointees, one each from the speaker and minority leader of the House and the president and minority leader of the Senate. None could be sitting members of the legislature.
To force compromise, five votes would be needed to pass a redistricting plan, with one vote required from the minority party. That would force compromise, ending the possibility (as happened after the 2010 census) of one party in the majority dictating gerrymandered lines designed to maximize its partisan advantage.
It is now up to the House. Speaker William Batchelder would like to see redistricting reform handled by a constitutional commission, and the League of Women Voters is studying another ballot issue. Both involve the risks of needless complexity and delay. The best course is for state lawmakers to start over quickly in the new session, the House embracing the Senate’s concept, a proposed amendment on the ballot next November.