Mapmakers fail to share power
Road maps guide our travel. Legislative-district maps allocate political power.
In September, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and the ACLU of Ohio filed suit against the Ohio Redistricting Commission (ORC) for failure to draw legislative maps that will provide the level of shared power required by the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Dec. 8.
In 2015, more than 70 percent of Ohio voters approved changes to the state constitution intended to make state government more representative of voters. One provision requires that “no general assembly district plan shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a political party.” Mapmakers are compelled to set boundaries for Ohio senate and house districts that are compact and competitive, not “cracked” or “packed.”
The goal was to create legislative districts that are not designed to determine, by way of favoring one political party, who will win an election. The ORC is required to assure that representation in the general assembly is proportional to voter preferences statewide. If, for example, 60 percent of votes went to Republicans in recent statewide races, approximately 60 percent of the districts could be predominantly Republican.
The lawsuit charges that proportionality has not been achieved and that the maps should be redrawn.
If the maps are not corrected, it will mean more business as usual: Republican super-majorities ruling from the extreme, rather than negotiating from the middle. It will mean more elected officials who are not responsive to their constituents. It will depress voter participation.
What does the plan mean for our community?
Cleveland Heights and University Heights have been in Ohio House District 9 and, for the last seven years, have been represented by Rep. Janine Boyd, a friend of public education.
I was disturbed to see that under the new plan for House districts, the school district will be split. The new District 21 will combine Cleveland Heights and Shakers Heights, both communities from the old District 9, with seven new communities: East Cleveland, Warrensville Heights, Highland Hills, Beachwood, Woodmere, North Randall and one Cleveland precinct. University Heights is assigned to District 19, along with Euclid, South Euclid, Lyndhurst and other eastern suburbs, including Gates Mills.
While these are significant changes, will they change anything?
All the communities in the new District 21 are overwhelmingly Democratic and have substantial Black populations. According to 2020 U.S. Census data, 15 percent of the Black population and 10 percent of the total population of Cuyahoga County lives in the new district. It is a safe Democratic seat for a Black candidate. But, like most districts in the new plan, it is a packed district, meaning it is intentionally designed to favor one party. Putting so many Democrats in one district makes other districts less competitive.
In 2022, all seats in the Ohio House and the odd-numbered seats in the Ohio Senate will be on the ballot. Boyd cannot run again because of term limits. A new set of voters will select new representatives in both districts. It will be a new beginning, but it will hardly be a chance to reclaim representative democracy and responsive policymaking.
More years of super-majority lawmaking mean more extremist policies. The existing super-majority has ignored the needs of 90 percent of students to focus on privatizing education for 10 percent. Unless the dominant party has a change of heart, or the Supreme Court orders new maps, it will be hard to defend the interests of our public-school students and our communities.
Fair Districts Ohio (www.fairdistrictsohio.org) offers an accessible version of the new legislative maps.
Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident since 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.