If a five-sided object is a pentagon, and an eight-sided object is a octagon, what do you call an object with at least 56 sides?
Ohio’s new 16th Congressional District includes parts of Cuyahoga, Summit, Medina, Portage and Stark counties (split up in no discernible pattern), and all of Wayne County. In Cuyahoga County, it includes Westlake, North Olmsted, Fairview Park, Olmsted Falls, Olmsted Township and part of Rocky River.
The current 16th district, which consists of Ashland, Medina, Wayne and Stark counties, has roughly 35 sides determined by the borders of those counties.
The 2010 census determined that Ohio will lose two representatives, reducing the number of districts from 18 to 16.
The Westshore communities that West Life covers – Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Rocky River and Westlake – currently make up Ohio House District 16, represented by Nan Baker, and the slightly redrawn District 1 in the Cuyahoga County Council, represented by Dave Greenspan. The five communities, along with Lakewood, make up the Westshore Council of Governments, which collaborates on a variety of issues.
Currently, these communities are represented by Dennis Kucinich in the U.S. House of Representatives. But under the redistricting approved by the state legislature, the Westshore will be split between the 9th and 16th congressional districts.
Accounts by newspapers and public advocacy groups describe the redistricting process as one ripe with excessive gerrymandering, the process of creating political districts with intentionally partisan boundaries. Under gerrymandering, political districts often end up with nonsensical geographical borders.
The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, a project of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Ohio Citizen Action, issued a report last month concluding that the redistricting process was political business as usual, with the majority party pursuing its interests.
“Public input was ignored,” the report, entitled “The Elephant in the Room,” stated. “The result was the approval of new districts that will provide for largely predetermined elections where we will know which party will win before we even know who the candidates are. The districts were drawn and critical decisions were made in the backrooms outside of public view.”
The report also charged that U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s team was the primary decision maker in the redistricting map.
Many political observers have concluded that the new map favors Republicans in 12 of the 16 congressional districts.
The law that created the new congressional districts also establishes a Redistricting Reform Task Force, to be made up evenly of statehouse Republicans and Democrats. The group is charged with proposing a redistricting reform plan by June 30.
A coalition of 25 nonpartisan Ohio organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Ohio Citizen Action and Common Cause, have put forth a proposal that will allow private citizens, not politicians, to determine congressional districts based on nonpartisan redistricting principles. The coalition is currently collecting signatures to place a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
Under the proposal, a commission of four Republicans, four Democrats and four voters not affiliated with either party will determine districts in a process that will be open to the public. New districts, which will not be intended to favor any party or candidate, will require the approval of eight of the 12 commission members. The commission will be directed to create compact districts that will minimize splits of counties and municipalities.
The coalition sponsored a redistricting map-making contest utilizing publicly available software and population data.
“We found that when politics were removed from the process, maps could be drawn which created compact districts that kept communities together,” the coalition stated on its website, drawthelinemidwest. org/ohio/. “Moreover, the districts were politically balanced and would give voters a real choice in future elections. In comparison, the maps which were adopted by the politicians created safe Republican and Democratic seats which will give the voters little ability to hold their legislators accountable.”
I looked at the “winning” congressional maps online, and the districts they outlined seemed more compact and sensible than the final statehouse map, whose districts sometimes resembled Rorschach test inkblots. I must note that the top two Ohio House redistricting maps in the contest regrettably split the Westshore district in two.
It’s time for Ohioans to back reform in the redistricting process, and now is the time to do it. No one can predict what the political landscape will look like, nor which party will be in power 10 years from now when redistricting comes up again. So now is the best time to set objective standards and procedures that will give voters a real voice in choosing their representatives.