A national political expert visited Columbus to talk about the push to change the way state lawmakers’ districts are drawn, and it’s an opportunity to achieve something rare in this country. “That is not a natural community in any sense of the word,” says Michael Li, the redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. He’s pointing to a district map drawn in California. One particular district is just a sliver of land that snakes up the west side of the state. “It stretches almost 200 miles up the coast of California, here it’s barely there—in fact—there’s a point in which it disappears at high tide,” said Li. Li’s notes drew laughter but also point out the odd realities of gerrymandering. This is when one party can draw legislative districts to benefit one party over another.
Li came to Ohio to talk about redistricting reform with supporters of Issue 1 on November’s ballot. It would create a bipartisan commission of elected leaders who would draw the maps of districts for state representatives and state senators. That commission would have to abide by specific rules to make sure the districts are a fair reflection of the state.
Other states have reformed redistricting through ballot initiatives put before voters by citizens’ groups. That’s what makes Ohio’s plan so rare to Li. He says the fact that Ohio’s lawmakers worked to come up with a bipartisan plan to put on the ballot is special.