Time is tight for new state House, Senate maps

Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission – from left, Senate President Matt Huffman, Auditor Keith Faber, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Sen. Vernon Sykes – pictured at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, during their first meeting on Aug. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)
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Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission – from left, Senate President Matt Huffman, Auditor Keith Faber, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Sen. Vernon Sykes – pictured at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, during their first meeting on Aug. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

Credit: Julie Carr Smyth

The Ohio Supreme Court order to draw new state House and Senate district maps gave the Ohio Redistricting Commission just six workdays to do the job — and with no meetings yet scheduled, that will drop to four days following Monday’s holiday.

Legislators also return for their spring session on Tuesday, so regular committee hearings will take up some of that time.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that he believes the court wants commissioners to work together on new maps for the state’s 99 House and 33 Senate districts.

“All the members of the commission are going to have to be involved in setting the criteria for the mapmakers themselves, the technical people,” he said.

The court ruled 4-3 on Wednesday that the maps approved Sept. 15 don’t meet proportionality requirements and are drawn primarily to favor one party — Republicans, who hold a supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly.

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Last fall the commission voted 5-2 along party lines to approve a Republican-drawn proposal that critics immediately said guaranteed and strengthened the party’s lock on power. This time the commission must try to comply with proportionality standards, DeWine said.

“The court seems to be defining that goal as a 54-46 split,” he said, referring to the average partisan breakdown in recent Ohio statewide elections.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, the commission’s co-chairs, did not respond Thursday to questions about any new meetings, but both released brief statements shortly after the Wednesday court ruling.

“We’re reviewing the decision,” said Aaron Mulvey, House majority press secretary, on Cupp’s behalf.

Sykes posted a statement Wednesday on his legislative page, on behalf of himself and his daughter Emilia Sykes.

“The court’s ruling today confirmed what Democrats have been saying all along: The gerrymandered maps created by the majority are unfair, unrepresentative and unconstitutional,” he said. “Our hope is that the commission can now get back to work and draw new, 10-year maps that better reflect what voters have demanded: fair districts created through a bipartisan, transparent process.”

DeWine said he talked to Cupp on Thursday morning, and staff members were meeting to work out procedures for reconvening the commission.

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When it reconvenes, the seven-person commission may have a new member. Previously it consisted of Cupp; Vernon Sykes; DeWine; state Auditor Keith Faber; Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose; Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R–Lima; and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D–Akron.

Emilia Sykes stepped down as minority leader at the end of 2021. On Wednesday, Democrats chose state Rep. Allison Russo of Columbus as their new minority leader.

The state constitution says one member will be “appointed by the House minority leader,” so Russo may take that seat herself, reappoint Emilia Sykes or name someone else.

The Supreme Court retains jurisdiction over the new maps. The 10-day-total deadline is set to have new maps in place before the Feb. 2 filing deadline for state legislative seats. Once a new plan is adopted, parties will have three days to file any further objections.

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