Straighten out legislative lines

Every 10 years when the U.S. Census rolls around, new congressional districts are drawn. Something is amiss when some districts look like doughnuts with a bite taken out, like stones skipping along a shoreline of Lake Erie, or like corn fritters thrown into a deep fryer with spindly fingers stretching into neighboring districts.

When it comes to drawing congressional districts, logical lines are often at the mercy of cunning calculations.

The problem dates back to the early 1800s, when a district was formed to benefit the party of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. The district was shaped like a salamander, which led to the term “gerrymandering,” or manipulating district lines to favor a certain political party.

This fall, Ohioans will vote on a constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan state legislative redistricting commission. Maps drawn by this commission would be valid for 10 years as long as at least two members of each major political party voted for them. If the maps are passed along purely partisan lines, the maps would only stand for four years.

That change may solve problems with state legislative lines. But Ohio’s process for drawing congressional district lines may still be the victim of scheming self interests.

The federal government stipulates that districts must have almost equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. Unfortunately, the rules don’t say anything about stacking the deck against fair elections between political parties.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that independent commissions can be used by states to draw the redistricting lines. The ruling was cheered by many who are tired of the districts being rigged to keep the same parties in power.

But that federal level decision means nothing if the states don’t put those independent bodies in place.

While Ohioans may vote in November to clean up the state redistricting process, there seems to be little enthusiasm to fix the process at the congressional level.

Last week, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Ohio Senate President Keith Faber said the fall ballot issue won’t be expanded to include congressional lines. According to the Associated Press, Faber said there wasn’t enough time to make adjustments in the ballot language.

But now seems like the perfect time to make a change, before we get even more entrenched in the redistricting lines that strangle any possibility of citizens voting in a change.

We are trusting those in Congress to draw their own tickets back to office year after year.

The way they are drawn now, it would be nearly impossible for a Democrat to win in U.S. Rep. Bob Latta’s district, or a Republican to win in U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s district.

We need to take the power to draw lines away from the politicians and give it to an independent commission — ultimately giving more power to voters at the polls.

— The (Bowling Green) Sentinel-Tribune