Although elections are currently under way in state and federal legislative districts, newly drawn from 2010 census data, this election may be short-lived.
If voters approve State Issue 2 in this election, Ohio's constitutional rules for drawing these districts would dramatically change, and mandate setting entirely new districts next year.
The 2014 elections would then drop a new world on voters choosing Ohio's congressional delegation as well as all Ohio House and half of Ohio Senate members.
Voters needs to be aware of the dangers and likely negative impacts associated with this proposal.
Its passage would place many counties and mid-sized and larger cities at high risk of being split multiple times when forming legislative districts.
Here are a few of the reasons for us to be concerned:
** Issue 2 repeals two critical protections in Ohio's constitution that prohibit dividing counties and other communities during districting. One requires that whole counties be placed within state legislative districts whenever possible, and the other only allows a single township, city ward, city or village to be split, if needed, to complete formation of a district.
** Issue 2 replaces those protections with four new factors that must generally be used to determine which competing district map is chosen. These are:
1. Competitiveness at the district level -- seeks to assemble districts made up of voters having a history of voting nearly 50-50 for Democratic vs. Republican candidates. This factor increases the probability that counties and larger cities would be divided multiple times.
2. Party balance statewide -- creates pressure to arrive at a statewide ratio of districts, with voting histories leaning somewhat Democratic or Republican, that closely matches the historical leaning split of Ohio as a whole. This factor also works against keeping counties and larger cities together.
3. Minimize community division -- gives preference to maps that avoid division of counties, municipalities, contiguous townships and city wards in that order of priority. I’ll be explaining why that sounds better than it really would actually be.
4. Compactness -- credits maps with districts that stay closer to a square or circle in shape, meaning the shortest perimeters.
No guidance is given as to how these four competing factors would be weighed, so presumably each would receive equal weight. Examples of some of the concerns these factors would produce include:
** Counties and larger communities would have only weak, indirect protection from being sliced up multiple times. Since there are thousands of townships, villages and cities this would dilute the weight given to the relatively few counties and larger cities like Wooster and larger communities. This gets further diluted by the other three factors that bring pressure against it.
As a consequence one could expect to see larger communities and medium-sized to large counties divided across multiple districts to achieve the other mandates. Under the current Ohio state legislative district maps 58 of the 88 counties are kept whole. Current Congressional districts keep around 67 counties from being divided.
** The vast majority of voters would find themselves in legislative districts with only a 50/50 prospect of electing a legislator with similar views. How this might affect candidate and legislator conduct is worth considering.
** With half the weight expected to go to the map combining the most opposite-leaning communities the probability of having districts made up of voters with similar political values would be greatly diminished.
** The cost of legislative campaigns would likely go up significantly since so many would be highly competitive.
It is difficult to predict what would become of Wayne County under Issue 2 Congressional map drawing. If one thinks about the need to give 50 percent weight to maps that produce competitiveness, one could draw relatively compact maps with Orrville and the southeastern area of Wayne in a district running into Canton; Rittman and Doylestown connected into Akron; the north side of Wooster and northwestern Wayne in a third district running north to include urban lake Erie areas; and a fourth district that would connect south Wooster with Ashland, Holmes and either part of Tuscarawas or Richland counties running further south.
It is not even a stretch to consider that Wayne County could be divided in districts running into the City of Cleveland in one direction and the City of Columbus in the other.
Such districts might "win" the contest under Issue 2 criteria. But that would not be good for any voters.
Be very wary of State Issue 2.