Ohio Redistricting Commission approves new statehouse districts with bipartisan support

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

The Ohio Redistricting Commission unanimously approved new state legislative districts late Tuesday night after a week of public hearings and extended closed-door deliberations among the board’s five Republicans and two Democrats.

The final vote came in at 10:40 p.m. Tuesday after hours of private deliberations among commission members resulted in a slew of tweaks to the GOP-drawn working draft that had been unveiled six days prior.

In the Senate, the final maps create 23 Republican-favored districts (including three tossups within 2%) and 10 Democrat-favored districts (one tossup). On the House side, the map shakes out to 61 Republican-leaning districts (including three tossups) and 38 Democrat-favored districts (eight tossups).

Assuming each district elects their mathematically favored party, the maps would create an Ohio Senate that is 69.7% Republican and 30.3% Democrat and an Ohio House that is and 61.6% Republican and 38.4% Democrat.

The vote

The commission’s Democrats characterized their votes in favor of the maps as pragmatic and begrudging. Each used the occasion to advocate for constitutional reform to the state’s redistricting process, angling for a potential November 2024 amendment that would establish an independent citizen redistricting commission.

“We worked hard to find a compromise and it is illustrated by the amended maps that we have before us today, " said commission co-chair and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio of Lakewood. “But, one of the things that has been made clear to me by the cycle of redistricting is that this process does not belong in our hands. Rather, the people should be choosing their representatives; unfortunately, right now, it’s the other way around. We have to do better.”

Republican co-chair and Ohio Auditor Keith Faber said that the current process “can work if the parties are intent on making it work.”

He said that there was a notable improvement in good-faith negotiations coming from the members of this commission in comparison to the commission he sat on in 2021 and 2022, which had five of its approved maps struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Faber said he fully expects the new maps to be upheld by the court this time around.

“In the end, I think this map meets the constitutional tests. It certainly does what we indicated should be done; it allows people to be represented by people that share their values; it keeps communities together certainly where possible,” Faber said.

In the House, the maps give Democrats a chance to deny Republicans another super-majority in the next election. If Democrats win each of their tossups and flip the three Republican tossups, Republicans would hold 58.6% of the House and not have the coveted three-fifths party-line vote.

In the Senate, Antonio said the maps provide an opportunity for Democrats to nab 13 of the Senate’s 33 seats — not enough to dismantle a super-majority, but an improvement over the party’s current hold of seven seats.

Antonio and Faber said they expect the maps to be good until 2031, at which point the state will be required to update its districts to match new census data. However, there is potential that the maps might only last two years, depending on the Ohio Supreme Court’s interpretation of vague wording in the state constitution.

How we got here

This is the sixth time the state, through the commission, has drawn and approved Ohio House and Senate districts since the new census was completed and the first time that decision was agreed upon by Republicans and Democrats.

The previous five attempts were each struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court under Republican then-Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who joined the court’s Democrats in their judgment that the maps didn’t satisfy the redistricting requirements in the Ohio Constitution. O’Connor’s retirement is believed to have made the court less likely to strike down the commission’s maps moving forward.

The previous failed efforts led a federal court to temporarily instate a version of the struck-down maps in order to run the 2022 General Election, which elected half of the state’s Senate and the entirety of the state’s House.

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