After making halting progress on redistricting reform, a special committee charged with recommending updates to the Ohio Constitution reached agreement last week, thankfully, on several important principles. More work remains, and it is important to maintain momentum. The target should be to reach final agreement well before the August deadline for placing an issue on the November ballot.
The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission’s Legislative & Executive Branch Committee agreed that a seven-member board should draw new legislative and congressional districts, beginning after the 2020 census. A supermajority, including at least one member of the minority party, would be needed to pass a plan. The agreement mirrors a resolution already adopted with bipartisan support in the Senate.
The new board would end the ability of one party to control redistricting. One-party control too often has resulted in safe districts that poorly reflect the state’s overall political balance and frustrate compromise by encouraging the extreme wings of each party. The board would include the governor, auditor and secretary of state, plus one person appointed by each of the legislative caucus leaders, thus assuring at least two minority party members.
Republican members of the Legislative & Executive Branch Committee oppose expanding to two the necessary number of minority party votes for approval of a redistricting plan. They argue that would give the minority too much power. Yet it is important to recognize that much pressure could be brought to bear on a single person, and that requiring two minority party votes would create a greater incentive to draw fair and competitive districts, not less.
The committee’s Republicans rejected Democratic ideas for fallback plans based on an open competition (in case of an impasse), plus standards for representational fairness that reflect the overall balance of power in Ohio. The concern is, without such safeguards, and with only a single minority vote required, the new redistricting board may return to bad habits, creating the kind of oddly shaped districts that yield representatives averse to middle ground.