By Jim Siegel

Ohioans overwhelmingly voted to revamp the process for drawing congressional districts, holding the promise that the next map will feature less gerrymandering by politicians and more fairness for voters.

With the easy passage of state Issue 1 on Tuesday, no longer will the majority party at the Statehouse be allowed to hide in a secret room to gerrymander congressional districts with few rules on how lines are drawn.

"Ohio voters have made their voices heard and sent a clear message that they want a fair, transparent government that works for them," said Ann Henkener of the Ohio League of Women Voters, which was part of a coalition that pushed for a ballot issue that provided valuable leverage in the weeks of closed-door debate of the issue.

Passage of Issue 1 comes nearly three years after Ohio voters approved a new process to draw legislative districts. Both legislative and congressional maps will be drawn again in 2021 after the next census, when Ohio is expected to lose another congressional seat.

Majority Republicans gerrymandered the current congressional map to allow them to hold 12 of 16 districts, including two of three in increasingly blue Franklin County.

The passage of Issue 1 does not guarantee that all gerrymandering will end. If the legislature, and/or a seven-member commission consisting of three statewide officeholders and four lawmakers, cannot reach a bipartisan agreement on a map, then the majority party can draw a map on its own.

However, that map would last only four years, instead of the normal 10, and it would be subject to tighter restrictions.

Supporters of Issue 1 say a key to the proposal is that it puts in place new restrictions on how maps can be drawn, such as limiting how many counties can be split, and how often.

Advocates for changing the process believe that, if both sides negotiate in good faith and take into account suggestions from outside groups (at least one map was already drawn with sensible districts and multiple competitive seats), Ohio's next map could feature four or more truly competitive districts, and neither side would be expected to win 75 percent of seats despite getting 55 percent of the vote.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, Issue 1 was winning with 75 percent of the vote. Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, called it the "conclusion of an historic bipartisan compromise."

The issue was backed by both the Republican and Democratic parties, in addition to a wide variety of statewide organizations.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said passage "gives me hope that we can restore fairness to our elections in states around the country."

(c)2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)