Redistricting deadlines have no ‘teeth,’ advocates pessimistic

Cupp spox: Hearings ‘will probably be scheduled in the near future’

By: - October 19, 2021 12:55 am

Members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission are sworn in at the Ohio Statehouse in 2021. From left, Senate President Matt Huffman, state Auditor Keith Faber, former House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Sen. Vernon Sykes. House Minority Leader Allison Russo has replaced Emilia Sykes on the ORC. Photo by Susan Tebben

With less than two weeks before the next congressional redistricting deadline, anti-gerrymandering groups are still in the dark on progress of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, and aren’t hopeful the deadline will be met.

“Nobody has really been able to get an understanding of the calendar,” said J. Collin Marozzi, policy strategist for the ACLU of Ohio.

The ACLU of Ohio is already a part of a lawsuit challenging the legislative maps passed by the commission back in September. That lawsuit also questions the process that brought the maps to fruition, the transparency and accountability of which has been questioned by several groups.

The congressional redistricting process started in the Ohio legislature, as is spelled out by a constitutional amendment dictating the process. But legislators only got as far as passing rules codifying the commission’s role in the process before the Sept. 30 deadline passed, pushing the mapmaking back to the redistricting commission.

Right before the deadline and since it passed, public citizens have been submitting their own maps to the Ohio Redistricting Commission website, including the Senate Democratic caucus and the independent Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission.

On Oct. 5, commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes sent a letter to fellow co-chair and House Speaker Bob Cupp asking for public hearings to be scheduled for congressional redistricting.

“As co-chairs of the Redistricting Commission, we must schedule hearings as soon as possible so we can begin receiving public testimony on all congressional maps that have been submitted, as well as on other topics related to congressional redistricting,” according to the letter, which was included in court documents related to the court challenge of the legislative maps.

Sykes’s letter proposed meetings in Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Cleveland “at a minimum,” that would have occurred Oct. 12, 14, 16 and 19.

“I look forward to working with you to set a meeting schedule that enables the commission to fulfill its constitutional duty and to develop a schedule that responds to the public’s great desire for a meaningful, transparent process for drawing congressional districts,” Sykes concluded in his letter, which was copied to all commission members.

A spokesperson for Senate Democrats said Sykes did not receive a response to that letter. Sykes “has had conversations with Speaker Cupp on the phone, but the speaker has not agreed on a schedule yet,” according to Giulia Cambieri, spokesperson for the Senate Dems.

A spokesperson for the Ohio House GOP and Speaker Cupp said “work on the map is being done and a hearing will probably be scheduled in the near future.”

Commission member and Auditor of State Keith Faber “is ready to meet when a meeting is called,” according to a spokesperson for his office.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose referred back to a statement he released on Oct. 8, saying unless the co-chairs call a meeting to review maps “another road show would once again put the cart before the horse.”

“A big lesson learned from our last experience is that we need every minute we can get to sit down together to consider proposed maps and negotiate in the hope of reaching a bipartisan consensus,” LaRose said in the statement.

As the congressional redistricting moves on, Marozzi said the fact that the lack of urgency that brought partisan, 11th-hour approval of the legislative mapmaking process previously is present this time around “speaks to the failure that these new redistricting methodologies have experienced.”

“The notion that you would completely blow by the Sept. 30 (congressional) deadline was bad enough,” Marozzi said. “But now that it looks like the commission itself… isn’t going to meet their deadline, it’s just another dereliction of their duty to have an open and transparent process.”

Hearings of their own

While organizations wait to hear about official meetings, they’ve decided to be their own role models for what they want to see from the redistricting commission. The Equal Districts coalition is holding a rally on Wednesday outside the Statehouse “to demand fair maps and an open, transparent congressional redistricting process,” followed by “people’s hearings” throughout the week.

“It’s a direct response to the inaction we’re getting from the official process,” said Katy Shanahan, Ohio director for anti-gerrymandering group All On the Line.

Shanahan said the rally and meetings also come after hearing from members and Ohioans engaged in the redistricting process, who saw the process unfold during the legislative mapmaking.

“We are still getting cheated out of having that fair process this time,” Shanahan said.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio picketed outside of LaRose’s office Monday with another scheduled for Tuesday, and plan to make the rounds of Capitol Square leadership to emphasize the urgency of the process.

“What we’re doing is we’re modeling what the commission should do,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the LWV. “We are trying to model a deliberative process where mapmakers take feedback and continue to revise and propose better maps.”

The League of Women Voters agrees with other advocacy groups that don’t see an end in sight for congressional redistricting, certainly not before the Halloween deadline.

“We are now once again seeing mapmakers completely run the clock out on the mapmaking process,” said Miller. “When you don’t work in a bipartisan fashion, terrible maps can results and terrible maps don’t represent the people of Ohio.”

Miller, Shanahan and Marozzi also agree that challenging the process becomes a long-game when the consequences for not meeting the deadlines aren’t written in black and white in the state constitution.

“Yes, there isn’t a crackdown response that we could get, to sort of force them to get into the rotunda and draw the maps in public,” Shanahan said. “But there are still ways for us to challenge both the process and the maps.”

Ultimately, whenever the maps are approved by the commission or the legislature, the ACLU and Marozzi see lawsuits at that point as more effective than tying up the process along the way. But Marozzi said it would be easier if officials like LaRose who have criticized the previous process stepped up to lead changes.

“All the statewide (officials) had issues with the map and had issues with the process,” Marozzi said. “They need to rise above the openly partisan and very shrewd happening that the legislative redistricting process had.”



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.