Ohio University has a unique connection — through the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Services — to the process of redistricting, which is currently taking place in Ohio and facing some controversy.
The Voinovich School was host to a five-year long project that organized information into a unified redistricting database from which new districts are drawn. The project came to a close following the release of the 2020 Census data Aug. 12, according to a university news release.
Although the school did organize the database, it had no part in redrawing district lines, Mike Finney, executive in residence at the Voinovich School, said.
“We had nothing to do with the mapping of the current districts,” Finney said. “We did not participate in that process at all. So, we have no input into the current map that was approved by the commission.”
The database digitized maps of voting precincts across the state and used 2020 census data to organize the information into the singular, large database, allowing legislators to access all the geographical information necessary to properly draw district lines from one spot. Such information includes voting data by precinct, census data by blocks and data from statewide partisan elections.
The Voinovich School has been involved in that process three times previously, in conjunction with Cleveland State University. However, the most recent project was the first time OU worked alone to organize the database. Any plans on working on a similar project again would be left to the state, Finney said.
“They may not do anything again until 2025, then we would potentially be, hopefully, (able to) do the project again starting in 2025 but in preparation for the 2031 redistricting,” Finney said.
In order to allow citizen input, the public had the opportunity to submit their own ideas of what the map should look like, Finney said.
“If we don't have fair districts that are reflective of voters in Ohio, we're going to continue to have polarized elections and then there's going to be less and less middle ground for politicians to come together and and find solutions,” John Haseley, chairman of the Athens County Democrats, said.
Haseley emphasized his feeling that the recently drawn statehouse districts were in violation of Ohio’s constitution. He believes the district maps were unfair to start with and “the Republican leadership only made them worse.”
“I think the crux of the constitutional argument is that these maps were clearly drawn in order to expand the Republican majority,” Haseley said. “They completely ignored the constitutional mandate that the maps should be drawn to reflect the statewide vote.”
However Pete Couladis, chairman of the Athens County Republicans, believes had the Democratic party been in charge of redrawing, a similar issue would have occurred.
“What I didn't like was having counties carved up,” Couladis said.
There is no easy way to redraw these lines, he said. Whoever is in charge of doing so will want to create something that is to their advantage. Couladis believes this creates a constant conflict between groups.
“You've got the political consideration. Since we live in a political system, you've got political consideration there as well,” Couladis said. “I don't know that there's any way to change that. I think they tried to make the system a little bit more even.”
Ultimately, he hopes a fair and reasonable map is created, he said. The database is currently available on the redistricting commission’s website while mapmakers utilize it to create new map plans, according to the release.