Strong support again is building in the Ohio Senate to improve the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn, current methods inviting unhealthy partisan excess. The Senate is expected to act soon on a constitutional amendment that would put a bipartisan commission in charge, with simple rules aiming for more compact and competitive districts.
In the past session, the Senate voted 32-1 to place a similar amendment before voters, only to see it die in the House. Unfortunately, recent comments by Speaker William Batchelder suggest a continuation of the go-slow approach.
The speaker wants to route any plan through the Constitutional Modernization Commission, a 32-member body that meets four times a year, with 10 years to recommend changes. Otherwise, Batchelder told the Dayton Daily News, he has no timetable. “I think the system succeeds now,” he said.
There is grave danger in delay, and no reason for the constitutional commission to re-examine the issue and then refer the matter back to the House. After the 2014 statewide elections, attention will turn to the next round in 2018, parties and pols weighing the odds of winning the offices of governor, auditor and secretary of state — and majorities in the legislature — or who will control the drawing new legislative and congressional districts after the 2020 census.
The results when one party is in charge are well-known: lopsided districts in which representatives are pushed to extremes because they fear a primary challenger outflanking them to the left or right, not an opponent in the general election.
After two complex amendments taken unsuccessfully to the ballot by citizens groups, the need for simplicity is also well understood. Rather than imposing complicated rules, the Senate amendment forces compromise by calling for a seven-member commission, a five-vote majority, including a vote from the minority party, needed to approve a plan. The further danger is that growing frustration with gridlock and extremism will push another citizens initiative to the ballot, its passage inviting lawsuits, partisan manipulation — and even more frustration.