Ohio Redistricting Commission discussing legislative map changes

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Ohio Redistricting Commission is negotiating revisions to its GOP-drawn state legislative district plan Tuesday afternoon after nearly a week of public hearings and internal, behind-closed-doors debate among the commission members.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, Republican co-chair of the board and a self-described facilitator between the board’s legislators on both wings of the political spectrum and Ohio Statehouse, said he hopes to have the maps fully approved by the commission before the day’s end.

“The goal would be to have a vote later today if everybody can get on the same page. If not, then we’re always open to do it when we have to do it. You vote when you have the votes, you don’t vote before,” Faber said.

An approved map Tuesday would mean that the Ohio Redistricting Commission went from a rough draft to a final solution in the span of six days.

Gerrymandering concerns

Criticism of proposed maps Tuesday focused on the working draft’s proportionality — the idea that the ratio of Ohio’s Republican legislative districts ought to reflect the ratio of Ohio voters who are Republican, and vice versa. This idea, along with several others, is outlined as an aim in the state constitution and has been a central obstacle to the commission getting a map through the Ohio Supreme Court.

The GOP’s working draft would create 62 Republican-leaning House districts and 37 Democrat-leaning districts, while creating 23 Republican-leaning Senate districts and 10 Democrat-leaning ones.

Greg Moore and Kathleen Clyde of the volunteer organization Ohio Citizen Redistricting Commission told the board that those splits should be closer to 56-to-43 in the House and 19-to-14 in the Senate in order to reflect the state’s partisan preferences and comply with the Ohio Constitution.

Jeff Jacobson, a former state senator and representative representing various parts of Montgomery County for 16 years, told the commission that achieving such a split is impossible to do without gerrymandering, which is forbidden by the Ohio Constitution.

“You can have an outcome that is not proportionate without it being gerrymandered. We have conflated the two issues. Gerrymandering is how you draw the lines, proportionality is the outcome,” Jacobson said. “...The fact is, drawing 44 seats in an area that only has 37 seats’ worth of a political party is a gerrymander. You can’t accomplish it any other way.”

The commission went into recess for closed-doors discussion around noon Tuesday without setting a time to reconvene. Faber and Democrat co-chair and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio of Lakewood said there’s still philosophical disagreement on the board, similar to the ones voiced during the day’s public hearing, but progress was made toward a compromise over the past week.

Faber, who sat on the last iteration of the redistricting commission, told reporters that this iteration seems much more interested in cooperation.

“I don’t want to say I was proud because I’m not proud until we’re done, but everybody was looking at this as a completely different process that we didn’t see last time,” Faber said. “In the last process, it was very clear that people had made a decision, they wanted to go to court, they didn’t want to resolve it in this process, I don’t see that same interest this time. I’m optimistic that we’re going to find a solution.”

Criticisms of process

The quick turnaround has been a sore subject for many Ohioans who publicly testified before the commission over the past week. The commission scheduled public hearings regarding the maps in quick succession; two outside Cleveland interfering with Yom Kippur on Monday; another outside Washington Courthouse on relatively short notice last Friday; and the third and final public hearing at the Ohio Statehouse itself on Tuesday.

Most of the public complaints centered on the process and not the maps themselves. Complaints have touched on the idea that the commission should have convened sooner in the year, that there’s been a lack of time to truly be able to form opinions on the commission’s draft, or that there’s been a lack of outreach by the commission to help citizens analyze or view the maps that it’s considering.

“It’s obvious that the Republican super-majority on the commission are using the same delay and obfuscate tactics that they have used all along and have no interest in real democracy or serving the public good,” said resident Mike Halaiko in public testimony Tuesday.

At one point in the hearing, an aggravated Ohioan handed out “shame certificates” to the commission and declared that not enough had been done to loop Ohioans in on the map making process.

State Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson, D-Toledo, told the board that she held an event Monday night to ask her constituents what they thought of the commission’s working draft.

“They asked me to ask you if there’s an opportunity for more time for them to be able to really look into these maps, to really be able to give meaningful discussion, meaningful criteria and suggestions on how to make these maps meet not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law,” Hudson said. She said she wished the commission visited northwest Ohio, the same way it visited outside Cleveland and Washington Courthouse.

After Tuesday’s public testimony concluded, Faber told reporters that complaints about the process, while appreciated, were not instructive to the task at hand.

“I appreciate all that testimony, I like hearing their concerns because I always like hearing more information, not less. But, at some point, we need to have people that want to testify about maps, not what they don’t like about the process. We’ve heard that. I hear it,” Faber said. He noted that complaints about the map itself could be addressed by the commission, but the process can’t be.

How we got here

Faber is one of five Republicans on the board negotiating and coordinating with the Democrats’ House and Senate leaders in order to create and approve the state’s 33 Senate districts and 99 House districts. The board’s GOP majority could unilaterally approve the districts, but gaining Democrat’s approval would create a longer-term solution for the state maps, which are supposed to be drawn only once a decade to reflect new census data.

This decade, five separate legislative maps had been approved by a previous iteration of the Ohio Redistricting Commission before being struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court for failing to comply with the fair standards Ohio voters had placed in the state constitution.

The previous failed effort led a federal court to instate unconstitutional 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. There’s an appetite among commission members and Ohioans at large to ensure that that same scenario isn’t repeated for the March 2024 primaries.

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