Ohio lawmakers set to miss another redistricting deadline
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State lawmakers in Ohio will miss their initial Thursday deadline for redrawing the state’s congressional district maps for the next decade, a key lawmaker says.
The lapse predicted by Senate President Matt Huffman punts the job to the Ohio Redistricting Commission, a newly created panel already facing criticism and lawsuits challenging the fairness of the new map it passed for state legislative districts.
A new, voter-approved redistricting process is being used in Ohio for the first time this year. It has been complicated by a months-long delay in the release of 2020 census figures needed to draw the maps due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This process is new. It’s complicated and it’s going to take some time to sort it through,” Huffman, a Lima Republican, told reporters. “My guys were working on the state maps for 25 straight days and nights, so there really wasn’t any practical way for us to get it done by this Thursday.”
But Democrats say GOP efforts to protect partisan interests are to blame.
“When it comes down to it, (Republicans) are going to side with their legislative colleagues for partisan interests,” said Sen. Vernon Sykes, co-chair of the redistricting commission. “And that’s what’s stopping us. That’s what’s holding us up.”
An Associated Press analysis found that Republican politicians used census data after election victories 10 years ago to draw voting districts that gave them a greater political advantage in more states than either party had in the past 50 years. Voters in Ohio have some of the nation’s most gerrymandered maps, the AP found.
What happens next in Ohio’s congressional redistricting process will be the scheduling of statewide public input sessions, similar to the more than a dozen hearings that took place over the summer about the drawing of the legislative districts.
In the meantime, the seven-member commission, already tasked with drawing legislative districts, will have until Oct. 31 to pass a 10-year congressional map with four “yes” votes and the support of both Democratic members.
If the panel does not submit a new map by that date, the process will go back to the Legislature with a reduced requirement of one-third of Democratic members voting in support by the end of November.
If lawmakers cannot reach that threshold, a simple majority can push through a 4-year congressional map.
The commission and then potentially lawmakers will also have to take into consideration that Ohio is set to lose a congressional seat because of slower population growth, bringing the total number to 15.
Sykes and Senate Democrats introduced their version of a congressional map Wednesday. The proposal received immediate criticism from GOP leadership, with spokesperson John Fortney calling the map “a new experiment in geometric shapes.”
The congressional deadline comes weeks after the panel charged with redrawing state legislative districts missed its Sept. 1 deadline and went on to approve new district boundaries purely along party lines, meaning those maps, as they stand, will only last for four years.
The GOP-backed legislative district maps are now facing three lawsuits in the Ohio Supreme Court, which separately allege the process and end product are an example of “extreme, partisan” gerrymandering that violates voters’ rights and the Ohio constitution.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.