Extreme gerrymander of Ohio’s Tuscarawas County is Exhibit No. 1 for why reform is needed: Mike Curtin

Tuscarawas County gets no respect.

Among Ohio’s 88 counties, none is treated worse by the newest, gerrymandered map of our state’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. Tuscarawas County is Exhibit No. 1.

The county is torn from northwest to southeast. Western and southern parts of the county are glued to 11 counties to the south and west to form the 12th Congressional District.

Northeastern Tuscarawas County is pasted onto 10 counties to the north, east and south to form the 6th Congressional District.

In all, Tuscarawas County is connected to 21 other counties. The map links the county seat of New Philadelphia to Youngstown, 85 miles northward, and to Marietta, 85 miles southward.

Looking west, the map links the village of Gnadenhutten to the city of Sunbury in Delaware County – 94 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 of 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. Of the two counties just north of Tuscarawas with larger populations, Stark County is split while Wayne County is left whole.

Tuscarawas County, with a 2020 census population of 93,263, is the state’s 30th largest.

Perhaps Statehouse mapmakers could have credibly argued Tuscarawas needed to be split because no counties to the east or south in that region have smaller populations.

However, no one could credibly argue – certainly not to any audience in Tuscarawas County – that it was necessary to stitch the county to 21 others.

No one could have argued with a straight face that preserving communities of interest, grouping areas with common interests and traditions, took precedence over partisan considerations.

In fact, no arguments 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 to the districts before a 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.

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