Ohio’s next battle: Draw new statehouse district maps

If you thought legislative fights over what to do about COVID-19 were tough, just wait until you see what’s coming next: redrawing statehouse district maps. Historically it determines which political party will control the Statehouse for the next decade.

The process takes place every ten years after new census data comes in to show which communities gained or lost population. This year lawmakers will act under new guidelines adopted by voters in 2015 and 2018.

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The newly created Ohio Redistricting Commission, convened by Gov. Mike DeWine, will begin work this Friday morning. Advocates for fair maps say the new system is designed to produce districts that are no longer “politically safe”. Jen Miller, President of the Ohio League of Women Voters, said under the old system lawmakers in safe seats often lose touch with average voters in their district.

“Once they have won their seat, they know they’ll win again and again and again. They don’t actually have to listen to their constituents. They don’t have to listen to the voters,” Miller said.

In an interview with WHIO-TV, Katy Shanahan, of the group Equal Districts Coalition, said redistricting is very important. “Drawing districts this year is literally drawing the future of our communities,” Shanahan said.

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Under the new system to be used this year districts are supposed to be more compact, more politically competitive, and keep together communities of interest. Plus, Shanahan said, the map drawing process will have much more transparency and public input. It will be a big change from what happened ten years ago “where maps were drawn behind closed doors in a hotel room that was named ‘the bunker’ or in terms of our maps being as gerrymandered as they are,” Shanahan said.

The commission schedule is to produce the first set of maps in one month, but the group is already behind because incoming data from the U.S. Census Bureau has been delayed. The Bureau blamed the delay on last year’s COVID crisis.