Redistricting groups remain hopeful for congressional balance

By: - February 4, 2022 3:50 am

Ohio’s joint committee on congressional redistricting, who met last November to hear more public input on four proposed congressional maps. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)

Legislators aren’t set to discuss congressional redistricting publicly until at least next week, but anti-gerrymandering groups took the lead in map-drawing, hoping to set an example for the General Assembly.

Fair Districts Ohio released a new congressional map they say could easily be used as a model for congressional district maps the Ohio Supreme Court ordered to be redrawn by the General Assembly or, if that doesn’t happen, the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

“We’re trying to improve this and encourage them to do better with congressional mapmaking than what happened with the legislative maps,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio and Fair Districts coalition member.

The legislative maps were redrawn after the state’s highest court deemed them unconstitutional, and the Ohio Redistricting Commission is still awaiting the court’s approval on the revised maps. The groups who successfully sued to challenge the 2021 plan originally filed objections to the revised maps, calling out some of the same partisan bias and community splits that they challenged originally.

The congressional maps were brought up as part of a press call announcing the winners of a map-drawing competition the anti-gerrymandering coalition help for both legislative and congressional maps.

“Amateur map-drawers” were tasked with creating district lines that avoided heavy partisanship and followed the rules of the constitutional amendment dictating redistricting in the state.

Yellow Springs resident John Hagner’s contest-winning congressional redistricting map, which anti-gerrymandering groups could serve as a model for the General Assembly to revise district maps next week.

The winning map, drawn by Yellow Springs resident John Hagner, has a 52% GOP to 45% Dem partisan split, with three districts strongly Democratic, six strongly Republican districts and six considered competitive according to analysis from Dave’s Redistricting App.

The map passed by the Ohio legislature in November had seven Republican districts, two Democratic and six considered competitive based on a 54-46 margin.

Turcer said those pushing legislators to balance the partisan bias of the previous maps and doesn’t mean Fair Districts is approaching the next phase of redistricting with naivety. She thinks it’s very possible the ORC will decide the maps yet again, because agreement between the two political parties on issues such as district compactness and minority representation have hit brick walls in the past.

But having a model map, though maps proposed by groups outside the political caucuses have largely gone unmentioned in previous attempts, could benefit the state as the process goes forward.

“It deprives the state legislature of the excuse that a good map isn’t possible,” Turcer said. “We just are tired of excuses, and this model map is a way simply to say, ‘No, you can do better.'”

The likely vehicle for congressional redistricting will be Senate Bill 286, currently an “intent” bill with no specific language on maps.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman told media last week that legislators could act on the the bill Feb. 7 or 8, in which the Senate could put maps and language into place. The Ohio House has an “if-needed” session scheduled Thursday, where they could take up the bill if passed by the Senate earlier in the week.

The General Assembly would need a two-thirds vote to pass a congressional map, meaning 66 from the House and 22 from the Senate.

“If we’re not able to do that, it goes to the redistricting commission, which would start up the week of Feb. 14,” Huffman said.

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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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