Debate over better representation: Ohio Redistricting Commission holds public hearing in Youngstown

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Ohio Redistricting Commission held public hearings throughout the state Monday; however, the afternoon’s meeting didn’t provide any clues as to what any final map will look like.

The commission was in Youngstown simply to hear from the people, and what they heard is that the current system needs to be changed and that Mahoning and Trumbull counties need to be represented together.

The commission is responsible for drawing legislative maps and may also have a role in the drawing of congressional maps.

A hundred people — most wearing masks and social distancing — attended the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s public meeting at Youngstown State Monday.

“I feel gerrymandering has harmed the rural communities of northern Portage County,” said Janice Simmons-Mortimer of Portage County.

The word gerrymandering — the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor one party — was used a lot by the 22 people who spoke, none of whom thought the current electoral maps were fair.

Reverend Ken Simon doubted the next maps would be fair either.

“And we’re going to go behind closed doors and do what we’ve been doing — voting along party lines,” he said.

John Boccieri, former congressman, state representative and state senator, said the data shows Mahoning Valley deserves its own Congressional and Statehouse districts.

“If we are truly about winning elections on ideas, then let our campaigns be about that instead of a predetermined map that was delivered to maximize political opportunities,” Boccieri said.

Sarah Lown of the Western Reserve Port Authority recommended Mahoning and Trumbull counties stay together because the mayors along the Mahoning River corridor have been known to work together.

“These mayors need representation that is going to understand and advocate for their needs,” Lown said.

Attorney Percy Squire reminded the committee the vast majority of the Black vote is in Youngstown and Warren.

“That any senate district that is drawn in the Mahoning Valley that separates the city of Youngstown and Warren dilutes the votes,” Squire said.

And Kathleen Gaige of the League of Women Voters also reminded the commission the vast majority of Ohio is not Republican.

“Whatever Ohio is, we are not a 76% Republican, 24% Democrat state, which is the current configuration of the Ohio Senate,” Gaige said.

Warren’s Bria Bennett, who’s running for state representative, criticized commission members Governor Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank Larose for not being at the meeting Monday. Both sent representatives instead.

On Tuesday, from 4 to 6 p.m., Trumbull County Democrats will be handing out “Fair Districts” behind the Pinetree plaza on Youngstown Warren Road in McKinley Heights, behind the Trumbull Democratic Party headquarters.

The hearings will run until August 27.

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