Will region gain or lose as political districts are redrawn?

Ohio Statehouse. Getty Images
Caption
Ohio Statehouse. Getty Images

Redrawing Ohio’s General Assembly districts is a puzzle, but around Southwest Ohio, most of the pieces are likely to retain familiar shapes, according to some local legislators.

A seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission is working on new House and Senate district maps, based on 2020 census data. This is the first use of a redistricting process created by constitutional amendment in 2015, intended to reduce partisan gerrymandering.

“You want to make the districts as fair as possible according to what the law says. As far as I can see, I don’t know how they would change them that dramatically,” said state Rep. Tom Young, R-Washington Twp. “My only thought would be that if there was any change whatsoever, it would be minimal.”

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Redistricting after the 2010 census “changed districts big time,” he said.

Redrawing Ohio’s Congressional map is likely to take more time and trouble than the General Assembly map, Young said.

“It’s a lot easier for the (Ohio) House and Senate seats than for the Congressional seat,” he said. “I don’t know how they cut that pie.”

Ohio State legislators held a redistricting conference Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, at Sinclair College in Dayton. The redistricting commission is holding crowd-and - panel meetings all across the state. Jim Noelker/Staff
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Ohio State legislators held a redistricting conference Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, at Sinclair College in Dayton. The redistricting commission is holding crowd-and - panel meetings all across the state. Jim Noelker/Staff

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Ohio will lose one of its 16 current U.S. House seats due to sluggish population growth. A separate but similar redistricting process will soon redraw Congressional district maps.

With the loss of one seat, the resulting districts will inevitably be larger, Young said.

The redistricting commission for Ohio General Assembly seats is holding public hearings around the state. No Dayton-area legislators serve on the commission, but Gov. Mike DeWine of Cedarville is a member and state Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., sat in on the Aug. 24 Dayton hearing as a proxy for House Speaker Robert Cupp, R-Lima.

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Based on 2020 census figures, the 99 state House districts will each represent about 119,000 people, and each of the 33 state Senate districts will represent 357,000, according to state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, co-chair of the redistricting commission.

Reflecting state government’s current makeup, the Ohio Redistricting Commission has five Republican and two Democratic members.

If at least two commissioners from each major political party vote to approve a new district map, it’s valid for 10 years. If a map passes on partisan lines, it’s only good for four years.

The state legislative map must be completed by Sept. 15 at the latest. Ultimately the General Assembly will have to ratify the new map, Young said.

Ohio Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said he voted for the legislative resolutions that eventually became both constitutional amendments to change the redistricting process for state districts and for the Congressional map. He hopes they will indeed reduce gerrymandering and produce better, more representative districts.

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“Speaking factually, with population changes, changes (to districts) will occur,” Antani said. “Because the changes do require minority party input, I do think we will see more compact and more competitive districts.”

So far there’s no indication what either process will produce. But for the Congressional seat at least, Antani said he’s confident there will be a “Dayton-focused district” that protects Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

On the state level, rural areas tend to be so heavily Republican and large cities so strongly Democratic that it’s difficult to draw districts that are both logical and competitive, said state Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, who represents Clark and Greene counties. Legislators want to keep districts following the boundaries of small and mid-sized counties intact, he said.

“The only counties we want to split are the big counties,” Hackett said.

Hackett said his friends among Democratic legislators agree that there are no easy answers. The only way to make greater numbers of districts competitive is to attach more rural areas to parts of cities – which looks a lot like gerrymandering, he said.

“You’re almost doing exactly what Republicans get accused of doing,” Hackett said.

State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, said he hasn’t heard discussion of significant changes to state legislative districts within the Southwest Ohio area.

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
Caption
The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

“As I said when voters decided on the new redistricting provisions a few years ago, I don’t believe we will ever have a 10-year map again,” Koehler said in an email. “It would be foolish for the minority party members on the commission, whether Republican or Democrat, to agree to a map that lasts more than four years. Either party that is in the minority will hope that they will be in the majority in four years and have more say in how the district maps are drawn.”

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While he hopes to keep city and county boundary splitting to a minimum, it’s almost impossible to do that without leaving some areas heavily weighted toward one party or the other, he said. Thus the results are still likely to be interpreted as guided by partisanship.

Most area lawmakers didn’t reply to requests for comment on redistricting. And not all of those who answered are closely concerned with it.

“Actually I don’t worry about it,” said state Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia. “I haven’t even been paying attention to it. They’re (commissioners) going to do what they’re going to do, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, said via text that redrawing the map should be about “population not politics;” but that while the process inevitably becomes political, he sees little difference between the two major parties anymore.

Fair Districts Ohio — led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio in partnership with ACLU Ohio, Ohio Council of Churches, Faith in Public Life and other groups — has pushed for more transparency in the process and an end to gerrymandering.

“Maps drawn this year will likely determine how voters are represented for the next decade ... Ohio voters deserve an open and fair mapmaking process that results in legislative districts that serve the interests of our communities rather than hyperpartisan political interests,” the organization said in a statement.