Redistricting is underway for Ohio's 2022 elections
No matter where you live in Cuyahoga County (and every other Ohio county) you are surrounded by a series of invisible lines that are about to undergo big revisions. These lines determine the size and the shape of our wards, our county council districts, our Ohio House and Senate districts and the geographical boundaries for our representatives to the U.S. Congress.
Such adjustments are made every 10 years, based on U.S. Census population figures. These processes are getting extra attention in Ohio in 2021 because the 2020 Census information was delayed due to the strictures of the Covid pandemic. Governing bodies now have short time frames for the all-important rearrangements. (The U.S. Census Bureau released the needed Census data on Aug. 12.)
Four factors add to the pressure for quick decision-making regarding the new governmental boundaries:
1. The state of Ohio overall has had a very modest gain in population in the past decade, but not by comparison to many other states. This results in the loss of one seat in the population-based U.S. House. The 2022 elections will select 15 members of the U.S. House to represent Ohio, not 16.
2. Cuyahoga County has lost population in comparison to the 2010 census figures; some cities and townships have had population gain, others have lost population. Some boundary-shuffling will need to take place.
3. Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2015 that established a bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission as the body to design and seek approval for the district boundaries from members of Ohio General Assembly. (Once Ohio House districts are formed, Ohio Senate boundaries are created by combining three contiguous House districts.)
4. In November 2018, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment with detailed provisions for the decisions that must be made to establish congressional districts.
Since brief media reports tend to blur the distinctions and time frames for the several redistricting projects, the accompanying chart summarizes the basic features of each process.
The Ohio Constitution contains detailed requirements for the map approval process, including methods for resolving vote impasses and for creating short-term maps in case the initial plan is not supported. Basic principles for acceptable plans are established by federal law and stated in the Ohio Constitution to assure that compactness, contiguity, and racial and ethnic balance will be expressed.
Bipartisan vote requirements are included; public hearings are required before a plan is finalized. Explicit regulations now in the Ohio Constitution could result in both timeline and effective-date changes if the bodies charged with approving the maps do not achieve the required bipartisan votes.
At each level of the districting process, the government entity provides funds for facilities, consultants and staffing to support the group charged with the map-making process.
The population changes may also create a need to adjust ward boundaries in Ohio cities and townships. The Bay Village and Westlake city charters both have provisions for the periodic design and approval of boundary changes but do not prescribe specific deadlines for this process. Any such changes will need to be completed prior to the filing deadline for 2022 candidates for elective office.
School board members are elected “at large” for staggered terms in a specific geographical school district and are not affected by the redistricting procedures discussed above.
Those who wish to read full details and analyses of the Congressional and General Assembly procedures can consult the following sources:
Kathy Woolner and Nadia Zaiem
Co-chairs, Westlake-North Olmsted Chapter, League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland