Proposed amendment would invite Ohioans to the mapmaking table for the first time

Who cares about Shelby County?

Not Statehouse politicians, who callously carved up Shelby County in drawing the latest map of Ohio’s 15 congressional districts.

The Ohio Constitution requires congressional districts to be compact, not irregularly shaped. It also requires contiguity, keeping neighboring communities together.

The current map ignores these requirements. Shelby County is a prime example of the disdain of state lawmakers who drew the map.

The county is torn in half. Its northern half is pasted onto 12 counties to the northeast to form the 4th Congressional District. Its southern half is glued to five counties to the southeast to form the 15th Congressional District.

In all, Shelby County is welded to 17 other counties. The map links Lake Loramie to Cinnamon Lake in Ashland County – 160 miles to the northeast.

The Village of Russia in southwestern Shelby County is linked to the City of Canal Winchester in southeastern Franklin County – 115 miles away.

Dividing Ohio’s 2020 census population of nearly 11.8 million into 15 congressional districts, while complying with federal equal population standards, required splitting some of the state’s 88 counties.

One principle fair districting is that when counties must be split, the most populous counties should be divided first. Every effort should be made to leave smaller counties intact.

Of the state’s 15 most populous counties, the current congressional map splits only five; 10 are kept whole.

Six counties in the same region as Shelby, all more populous than Shelby, are kept whole – including Montgomery, the state’s fifth largest.

Shelby County, with a 2020 census population of 48,230, is the state’s 50th largest.

Statehouse politicians drew the map in the form of a jigsaw puzzle for their own personal and partisan interests. They willingly sacrificed the public interest.

No one could credibly argue it was necessary to split Shelby County and stretch its halves 160 miles to the northeast and 115 miles to the southeast.

No one could stand before an audience of Shelby County residents and, with straight face, say efforts were made to group them with areas with common interests and traditions.

In fact, no justifications had to be made at all because Ohio law does not require – and Statehouse leaders do not seek – public input before they draw congressional and state legislative maps.

That could change on Nov. 5, when Ohioans most likely will vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment to reform the mapmaking process.

A group called Citizens Not Politicians is expected to file far more than the required 413,488 valid signatures of registered voters, by the July 3 filing deadline, to qualify the proposal for the ballot.

Among the amendment’s most important provisions is one requiring at least five public hearings, in each of five regions, prior to the release of any redistricting plan.

The amendment would require a 15-member, independent redistricting commission to encourage broad public participation in the crafting of districts.

The amendment also stipulates that, once proposed maps are drafted, five additional public hearings would be required to gauge public reaction before any map is approved.

For the first time, Ohioans would be invited to the mapmaking table. For the first time, maps would be drawn in the sunshine, in full public view.

Out in the open, with Statehouse power brokers no longer in charge of a backroom, secretive process, Ohioans just might – at long last – get the honest, fair districts they deserve.

Read more here.