Ohio deserves more fair House districts by 2020


Akron Beacon Journal: On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up again the matter of extreme partisan gerrymandering. The justices punted on two cases in June, one involving the way Democrats redrew U.S. House district lines in Maryland, the other about Republicans holding the pencil, or mouse, in Wisconsin.

The Maryland case essentially has made its way back. The next case the court now will hear comes from North Carolina, where Republican lawmakers have been most aggressive in putting together districts to their heavy advantage.

Do the new cases translate to a willingness on the part of a court majority to find such excesses unconstitutional? Actually, the justices have little choice but to accept such redistricting matters, the cases going first to a panel of three federal judges and then to the high court.

It may be that with the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh a majority exists for reaffirming precedent, the court in the past intervening to prevent racial gerrymandering but otherwise stepping back from a process deemed up to the politicians.

The court clearly has struggled with the tough task of developing an effective test or standard for when partisans go too far in redistricting.

What is evident is that the partisans are going further, aided by increasingly sophisticated technology, crunching data with more precision, political operatives driving election outcomes more than voters. Put another way, it is likely that additional cases will follow, the justices eventually confronted with the necessity to act.

CHALLENGE IN OHIO

One case is here in Ohio. The American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and others have mounted a court challenge to the current U.S. House districts. They have done so even though Ohio voters approved in May a new and much improved bipartisan approach to redistricting.

Why go to court when sound repairs have been made? The new process doesn’t take effect until after the 2020 census, Ohio likely to lose another House seat, down to 15, due to population changes across the country. So the 2020 elections will be conducted with the current districts, which are the product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.

Critics of the lawsuit have asked: Why four election cycles later? Consider that in November, a three-judge panel in Maryland barred officials from conducting further congressional elections using the 2011 districts and ordered the drawing of new ones just for 2020.

Jon Husted, the Ohio secretary of state and lieutenant governor-elect often, and rightly, touts the importance of every vote. Extend that thinking, and it is never too late to rid the state of districts that dramatically distort the results to the advantage of one party.

Across Ohio, in the November election, Democratic candidates for the U.S. House received roughly 46 percent of the vote. Yet once more they won just four of 16 House seats, or 25 percent. Akron has seen the fallout, the city and surroundings represented by four different lawmakers, none from the immediate area. One House district starts in Lorain County, moves west, then south and west again until it nearly arrives at the Indiana border. This is arch partisanship clashing with the shared interests of communities, let alone the right of Ohioans to have their voices heard.

So something important is at stake. If the Supreme Court isn’t ready to address extreme partisan gerrymandering, or improvement is coming in 2022, that hardly means the ACLU and allies should back off.

Ohioans deserve better than U.S. House elections in 2020 in which the outcome already has been determined.

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