Redistricting marches toward another passing deadline

Public, orgs present maps for ORC consideration

By: - October 29, 2021 12:40 am

Common Cause Ohio executive director Catherine Turcer, at right, presents maps proposed by the Fair Districts Ohio Coalition, held at left by Trevor Martin. The coalition presented maps to the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Oct. 28 in its only meeting before the Oct. 31 deadline for the ORC to approve maps. Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.

Congressional redistricting is still headed for a missed deadline even as the official commission heard proposed maps from advocates and public citizens Thursday morning.

Ohio Redistricting Commission co-chairs House Speaker Bob Cupp and state Sen. Vernon Sykes both said they are committed to hearing from the public and conducting several public hearings beyond the one held Thursday, which appears to be the last the commission will have before the process moves back to the legislature.

Commission members saw some familiar faces turn up for the public hearing to present proposed maps they’d drawn up to present before the Oct. 31 deadline.

The first-place map, designed by John Hagner, for the Fair Districts Ohio Coalition redistricting contest. The map was one of three presented during the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s Thursday meeting.

The Fair Districts Ohio Coalition was represented by Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, who presented three maps, the winners of a congressional map contest held by the coalition.

She said the maps were not meant to be final drafts, but a good jumping off point for commissioners to get to work.

“I am really hoping when we go through this congressional process that we’re actually able to see some deliberation,” Turcer told the commission.

In the report on the maps, Fair Districts called the maps “vastly superior to Ohio’s current congressional map on a number of specific criteria,” including equal populations, adherence to the Voting Rights Act, minority representation and the fewest amount of county splits.

In the three maps that won the contest, the first place entry had six competitive districts, the second place had five, and third place also had six competitive districts. This is a significant increase from the current congressional maps, which the coalition says have only one district with party competitiveness.

Creating competitive districts is not a requirement via the constitutional amendment that dictates how the redistricting process is going this year, but the coalition took it into account as a reason a majority of voters supported the constitutional amendment.

Congressional map proposed by the Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The independent Ohio Citizens Redistricting Commission also presented the congressional version of their unity maps, just as they did during the legislative redistricting period.

“In our map, both Cincinnati and Cleveland exist within their own congressional district,” said Chris Tavenor, a member of the OCRC. “Columbus is too big to include in just one congressional district, but it must be split responsibly to protect communities of interest.”

With that in mind, the OCRC proposed maps keep 69% of Columbus within one district, and the remaining 31% in a second district. Doing this, Tavenor said, still “honors recognized neighborhood boundaries and attempts to avoid breaking apart communities of interest within Columbus.”

Akron, Dayton and Toledo are all in their own congressional districts as well, under the OCRC map.

Fellow OCRC member Samuel Gresham, who made the formal presentation for the legislative unity maps, said he’s been through this redistricting process before, and has been fighting for decades against gerrymandering in the state. That has not changed with the passing years, he said.

“Look at the room of these volunteers,” Gresham said. “We’re serious as a heart attack. We are not going away. We are going to stay here … until we get what we deserve.”

The anti-gerrymandering groups weren’t the only people presenting maps. Paul Miller said he’s part of a group called Ohioans Defending Freedom, and accused Democrats, the OCRC and “other activist groups” of trying to create “an artificial competitiveness.” He said the redistricting commission should aim for the average of statewide voting margins in developing their maps, to avoid disenfranchising voters based on what some groups may want.

“If the Democrats want more seats, they can win them at the ballot box by being reasonable and ending the ongoing destruction of our country and way of life with their radical Socialist agenda,” Miller said. “That’s my opinion.”

All the submitted maps can be viewed at the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s website, along with notifications for future meetings and other public resources.

House Speaker Bob Cupp, at left, and state Sen. Vernon Sykes, right, co-chairs of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, speak before the Thursday meeting of the ORC. Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.

The co-chairs of the redistricting commission say they are working to keep the process transparent and Cupp said the commission will have “plenty of public meetings” to incorporate public input.

“I’ll be working as much as we can to make sure the meetings are announced well in advance,” Sykes said.

Sykes said it is “still up to the will of the General Assembly” to make sure fairness is enforced as the process goes back to the legislature, and the rules in place can only do so much to avoid gerrymandering.

“(Having rules in place) minimize how you can gerrymander, but they don’t eliminate the ability to gerrymander,” Sykes said.

When asked if the legislature would be working on guidance and process for redistricting as they await legislative committees and the formulation of official map proposals, Cupp said leading a process without maps would be hard.

“I’m not sure you can do that in the abstract; I think you have to do it as you’re looking at something more concrete and specific,” Cupp said.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said after talking to each other member of the commission, he’s “not seeing a great interest by many others in finding that middle-ground solution.”

“What I thought would be a much more productive way to do this and the way that sometimes a complex negotiation can be carried out is to find an opportunity to agree on principles, and so that was my focus from the beginning,” LaRose said after the commission meeting.

But as to whether LaRose thinks the redistricting process is flawed: “To be determined.”

The ORC has until Oct. 31 to approve a map, before the process heads back to the General Assembly who needs to put together a committee to decide the map makeup for the next ten years, if they can come up with bipartisan agreement. If there is no bipartisan agreement, a four-year map could be approved by a majority vote.

Nick Evans contributed to this article.

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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 Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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