COLUMBUS — State Issue 1 represents the latest attempt at changing the way Ohio draws its legislative maps following each decennial census.
Though it’s not garnering as much vocal debate as marijuana-related issues to be decided in next month’s general election, Issue 1 the backing of Republicans and Democrats and no organized or vocal opposition to date.
“The vast majority of people I talk to are supportive of it,” said Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Copley). “There is a wider understanding of the problem. There may be disagreements about the solution, but there’s a wider understanding of the cost of gerrymandering.”
Redistricting reform has been attempted numerous times, via failed efforts in the legislature and on the ballot.
“The tale of redistricting reform is long and fairly painful,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, an advocate of reform.
Turcer recalled efforts in the late 1990s that fell short of qualifying for the ballot and the Reform Ohio Now issues that were defeated by voters in 2005, plus then-House Speaker (and now-Secretary of State) Jon Husted’s attempts in the legislature.
The most recent ballot issue was in 2012, just after Republicans drew the maps that are now in effect. That year’s Issue 2 failed, with 65 percent of voters opposing.
This year’s Issue 1 has something that past efforts didn’t have: wide bipartisan support, with groups normally on opposite sides of issues backing the proposal.
The list is lengthy and includes business groups (the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Manufacturing Association), political parties (both the Ohio Republican and Ohio Democratic parties), the League of Women Voters, the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, the Ohio AFL-CIO and many others.
 Seeking Bipartisan Agreement
Ohio redraws its legislative district lines every 10 years, via a five-member panel — the governor, auditor, secretary of state and majority and minority party members of the legislature — that places power over the process in the hands of whichever political party controls state government.
In 2011, Republicans controlled most of the seats at the table, and Democrats say that led to districts drawn to make it easier to elect GOP candidates.
This year’s Issue 1 would expand the membership of the redistricting panel to include seven members, ensuring minority party representation.
The new setup would expand the legislative membership to include two lawmakers from the majority party and two from the minority.
The new Ohio Redistricting Commission initially would meet every decade, in years that end in one, to develop new maps, with bipartisan support required for any resulting plan.
In cases where plans don’t receive support from Democrats and Republicans, the maps would remain in effect for four years, after which the commission would be required to reconvene and draw lines again.
“This is a very difficult process,” Deidra Reese, from Ohio Voices, said of the redistricting process. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of effort. ... You’re not going to know what’s coming the next time you run, so I think it is a great incentive for them to actually work together and get to a decisions that doesn’t force them to a four-year plan.”
Turcer added, “If you do a four-year map, you don’t know who’s going to be the governor, you don’t know who’s going to be the secretary of state, you don’t know who’s going to be the auditor. On top of all that, you’re going to have to make all of these House members and Senate members worried that their districts are going to be completely different. They might have to move. If you have to do this again in four years, there’s enough anxiety about who the map-makers are and enough anxiety for the people who are members of the legislature... going back to the drawing board in four years could be very difficult for people.”
LaRose said lawmakers who choose to final maps without bipartisan support also would have to face voters.
“The voters could very well penalize those redistricting commission members for failing to do their job and reach a compromise,” he said. “... They’ll be held accountable by the voters for the work that they’ve done in that regard. If they’ve just been hard-core partisans about it, then there’s a price to pay for that.”
Issue 1 also outlines criteria for map-drawing, aimed at avoiding gerrymandered lines that snake across cities or counties and requiring better political balance in any resulting districts.
Proponents of the plan say some of those districts would lean Republican, some would lean Democrat, but more would be competitive and reflective of how Ohioans voter over the previous 10-year period.
mkovac@dixcom.com