Legislators Argue Over Redistricting Plan in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If you ask Ohio Democrats, the process known as gerrymandering costs them anywhere from two to four congressional seats, as they are now outnumbered in the U.S. House of Representatives by a 12-4 margin in the Buckeye State.

“They have no rhyme or reason,” said Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, when asked about the shape of congressional districts within the Buckeye State.

“I really think we need to minimize the splits of counties.”

Cera is one of four Ohio legislators to serve on a working group focusing on congressional redistricting, with the intent being to design more competitive districts. Others in the group include Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron; Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima; and Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton.

The work of this group led to some heated debate during the 2018 Ohio Associated Press Legislative/Political Preview Session in Columbus, which took place Wednesday.

“The hope was that we could reach a bipartisan agreement. Instead of that, the Republicans went and introduced their own plan,” Cera said.

Cera referred to one particular Ohio district, the 9th District which Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, represents. Cera called the district the “snake by the lake,” as the district includes the portions of five counties bordering Lake Erie.

Because these are mostly Democratic areas, Kaptur’s seat remains relatively safe, Cera said. However, this reduces the influence these Democrat voters may have in terms of being able to elect more representatives.

“If you’re a Republican in a heavily Democrat district, you have virtually no reason to go vote. Gerrymandering lets politicians pick their voters, instead of letting voters pick their politicians,” Cera said.

Those on hand during the AP session on Wednesday seemed to agree on the idea of creating more equitable districts, though they seemed to disagree on the means to an end.

“I think you have an obligation to create competitive districts — not Democrat or Republican districts,” Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, said.

Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, said he is tired of hearing about how certain politicians need to motivate “their voters.” Instead, he wants to see the candidate work to change minds.

“When I was growing up, politicians actually tried to persuade you,” Yost said.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted also acknowledged the system does not seem fair to voters. He said congressional districts should be based more on geography — and less on how a computer predicts someone will vote.

“When you start by using political data, you are looking for an outcome. If you just use geography, you have a fair situation,” Husted said.

House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said if politicians actually had to persuade voters, it would reduce the extreme polarization throughout the country between “deep blue” areas and “deep red” areas.

“When the districts are competitive, you get a more responsive government,” Strahorn said.

Cera said he is unsure how the situation will end, but said his relatively pessimistic that a true resolution will be found. Still, he said the cause is a worthy one.

“I’ve always had competitive races. That’s how it should be. You should have to go out and convince people to vote for you,” Cera added.