Thursday, September 27, 2001

New districts called unfair

Democrats say blacks slighted

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Republicans who drew the maps that will change boundaries in the Ohio House and Senate for the next 10 years could have given minorities more representation with maps that probably will be adjusted, Democrats in the Legislature said Wednesday.

        The state Apportionment Board, dominated 4-1 by Republicans, held a meeting to review its plan and others submitted by legislative Democrats, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ohio Republican Party.

        The board's own plan likely will be adopted at a meeting Oct. 5. But it probably will be slightly altered to respond to some of the Democrats' concerns, board Secretary Scott Borgemenke said.

        The federal Voters Rights Act prohibits the dilution of minority voting strength through the creation of legislative districts.

        The map makers are forbidden to under-represent minority populations by putting them in too many separate districts that are dominated by whites. They also are not allowed to put large concentrations of minorities in a single district, a practice known as “packing.”

        The board's plan released Monday includes four “minority-majority” districts — all in the Cleveland area — where minorities of voting age outnumber whites.

        The plan also has eight other “minority-influence” districts where minorities make up at least 30 percent of the voting-age population.        

Columbus adjustment

        The Democratic plan would add one more minority-influence district to two already in Columbus. Rep. Ray Miller, a Columbus Democrat, said the board's plan could be illegal if it doesn't include the third Columbus district.

        “That is a violation if you pack voters into as few districts as possible,” Mr. Miller said.

        Mr. Borgemenke said the board considered all factors of the Voting Rights Act and the Ohio Constitution when it drew the lines.

        He said they could not draw more minority-influence districts without creating a “ripple effect” that would lead to other constitutional problems.

        “We are convinced that this plan does not dilute minority voting strength,” Mr. Borgemenke said.

        Another objection came from Rep. Peter Lawson Jones, a Shaker Heights Democrat, who said most of his district had been given to fellow Democratic Rep. John Barnes of Cleveland. He said Shaker Heights, an upper middle-class Cleveland suburb that is 34 percent black, had been sliced down the middle.

        Mr. Jones said the new boundaries violated a constitutional guideline to try to make communities whole within a district if possible.

        “To cut it in half ... really ignores that particular and peculiar history that is Shaker Heights,” Mr. Jones said.

        Mr. Borgemenke told Mr. Jones that the board would consider an amendment to redraw the boundary and keep the suburb entirely within his district.

        The legislative Democrats also said the public wasn't given enough political data to draw their own maps, thus shutting citizens out of the process.        

Last-minute info

        Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican member of the Apportionment Board, said the information the Democrats wanted, such as voting patterns in precincts, was not available to his office before Friday.

        Mr. Blackwell's office provided mapping software based on census data and constitutional information so citizens could draw their own suggested boundaries.

        The political information, supplied by Cleveland State University, was not compatible with Mr. Blackwell's data.

        Mr. Blackwell, though, said anyone who wanted to draw a map could have done so with the available census information.


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