MARIETTA - The board charged with redrawing the boundaries for Ohio's House and Senate districts was challenged during a Wednesday hearing in Marietta to hold public meetings once they have drafts to consider.
The Wednesday meeting of the Ohio Apportionment Board at Marietta College was the seventh in 11 hearings scheduled across the state aimed at gathering input or concerns from the public.
So far, none of the meetings have drawn much attendance from the public. About 18 people attended Wednesday's meeting, with three taking the opportunity to address the panel.
At a Tuesday meeting in Canton, no members of the public attended. One meeting had as many as four speakers and the rest had three or fewer, said Ohio Auditor David Yost, a member of the apportionment board.
Yost was the only actual member of the board who was present at the Marietta meeting. All other board members had representatives from their offices attend in their place.
"(Public) attendance has been a little disappointing," Yost said. "The folks who are coming have expressed a desire for an open process, which I understand and support."
Marietta resident Caroline Putnam, a member of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, addressed the panel, saying there's little to debate at this point because the recently formed group has yet to develop any proposals.
"I strongly recommend you publish any proposed maps and hold public hearings on those proposed maps," she said.
The board isn't required to hold more public meetings after it begins to re-draw maps.
In conjunction with the U.S. Census, state law charges the apportionment board with redrawing districts every 10 years to reflect changes in population. The changes must be adopted by Oct. 5.
Molly Varner, Washington County Democratic chair, was in attendance at the meeting Wednesday, but did not address the board. She said she agrees with Putnam's suggestion to hold additional hearings.
"It's awfully hard to debate when there are no maps to look at," she said.
Although the redrawing of district lines is largely based on population and keeping similar numbers across all districts, the changes can help or hurt candidates depending on the geographical size of the district and historical loyalties those areas have to one party or another, Varner said.
Dana Singer, an independent candidate running for Marietta city auditor, addressed the board, saying transparency and fairness are critical.
"So many people have lost their faith in government," she said. "It really has to come across that no party is being favored."
Meg Flack, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio in Columbus, addressed the board Wednesday in Marietta. She called for fairness in redistricting.
"Our democracy thrives when the marketplace of ideas is truly competitive, especially on Election Day," she said.
Flack presented the board with four proposed maps, selected from a public contest held by the League of Women Voters to create fair and competitive districts.
"The winning maps are markedly better on all of the public interest criteria than the current House and Senate district maps," she said.