Of 435 House races in November, only a few dozen were considered competitive — a result of decades of drawing district lines for partisan advantage, generally by state legislatures. But in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, which many blame for the polarization of state and national politics, Ohio took a step in the opposite direction last week. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive. “I think it will be a new day in Ohio,” said Representative Matt Huffman, a Republican who shepherded the plan. While the proposal is aimed narrowly at state legislative districts, it could have an indirect impact on congressional districts because they are drawn by state lawmakers. President Obama carried Ohio, a quintessential swing state, by two percentage points in 2012. Yet Republicans have overwhelming majorities in Columbus, the capital, and a 12-to-4 advantage in congressional seats. “When you’re an outsider looking in, it’s almost shocking,” said Senator Joe Schiavoni, the Democratic leader in the State Senate.
The plan explicitly prohibits maps drawn to favor or disfavor one party.
Republicans, who in some ways acted against their own interests, were motivated partly out of fear of a potential voter referendum that could impose an even more sweeping overhaul.
They also recognized that they could slip into the minority one day. “Right now, we’ve got 65 of 99 seats in the House and 12 of 16 congressmen,” Mr. Huffman said. “But in a state like Ohio, that’s not always going to be the case.”
The proposed changes, which Ohioans must vote on in a November 2015 referendum to amend the State Constitution, would not go into effect until the next redistricting, in 2021.