Republican Ohio redistricting commissioners pass new congressional map in party-line vote
New map now heads to Ohio Supreme Court for review
Secretary of State Frank LaRose speaks to media after the Ohio Redistricting Commission adopted a congressional map for the second time. The map was rejected as unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court in July. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)
Another GOP-drawn congressional redistricting plan was adopted along party lines on Wednesday, sending the effort back to the Ohio Supreme Court for review.
The map that was adopted by Republicans 5-2 on Wednesday was introduced to the Ohio Redistricting Commission by Senate President Matt Huffman on Tuesday, with a 10-3 GOP advantage, and two districts that the GOP considers Democratic-leaning, but that fall within the narrow range that political science experts call toss-ups.
Slight changes were made overnight, but those amounted to small line moves to correct errors that would have put the residences or offices of incumbent U.S. Reps. Joyce Beatty and Mike Carey outside of their districts.
Otherwise, Huffman said the new district plan was identical to the one brought forth the day before, despite asking for suggestions and recommendation from the Democrats on the commission.
Approval of the map sends it off to the Ohio Supreme Court for approval, after the court sent back the previous General Assembly-adopted map because of unconstitutional partisan breakdown.
It also moves forward a map that could be used in the May 3 primary, which commission member and Secretary of State Frank LaRose said is becoming a “really, really challenging timeline.”
“What I made clear is that if there were to be another rejection of maps – whether state legislative or congressional – it, at that point, is just not possible that those contests would end up on the May 3 primary,” LaRose said. “Simply, at that point, the ship has sailed, I guess you could say.”
Democrats on the Ohio Redistricting Commission attempted to make amendments to the map to even out the partisan breakdown of the map and resolve some “tossup” districts, but those amendments were tabled, also along party lines.
The amendments would have made the map an 8-6 GOP advantage, with one tossup district. House Minority Allison Russo and commission co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes continued to push to ignore the “artificial” deadline that led to voting on the map this week.
“I think that there are members on this commission from the majority party who have a willingness to do that, and I would strongly encourage that,” Russo said.
Huffman claimed commission members didn’t have enough time to consider the amendments to the map because the GOP members were approached with them last night. Dems had the same criticism of the GOP map, having received them on Tuesday, the same day Huffman introduced them, and less than 24 hours before they were adopted.
But the breakdown of the Democratic map wasn’t to Huffman’s liking anyway, he said, particularly the one proposed in February.
“What we saw a month ago was an eight to seven map, which I wasn’t going to support,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Huffman also said the concept of “unduly” splitting districts to favor one political party or another no longer applies in this late stage of the redistricting process. He said because they’ve fixed what the supreme court saw as undue splits in three counties, the commission has done what the court asked.
The senate president made comments to media afterward saying the process could have happened at a faster pace if Democratic responses had not “largely been controlled by outside groups.” Republicans have often called out groups like All On the Line and other nationwide groups with Ohio chapters that have Ohio residents leading them as “special interest groups” without a fair process in mind.
Early in the process, Republicans were quick to blame U.S. Census delays on the slowing of the process and said their hands were tied by data delays when criticized for having the least amount of public hearings required by the constitution.
But none of the reasons the GOP brought to the table seem believable to anti-gerrymandering groups. Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the power dynamics were clear in the majority Republican commission, and consideration of maps made by public citizens or non-commission members wasn’t required because of the power they had.
“All of their excuses ring hollow in terms of why had to implement this exact map,” Miller said. “It’s clearly gerrymandered, it’s clearly unfair. They had many other options and they continued to not take those maps seriously.”
The Ohio Supreme Court is also still considering the legislative maps sent to them by the commission via a 4-3 vote at the end of February.
Primary date remains in place
Later on in the day, the Ohio House amended Senate Bill 9, an unrelated bill having to do with regulatory restrictions, to include a measure to increasing funding by $9 million to county boards of elections “in connection with the 2022 primary election,” according to state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who presented the amendment.
The money will come out of the General Revenue fund and go to the Ohio Board of Elections Reimbursement and Education Fund. Any unused funds have to be sent back in October of this year.
What didn’t make it through the Ohio House was a measure to move the election from May 3 to June 21. State Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, D-Toledo, brought up the amendment to “bring some order to this chaotic election season.”
Hicks-Hudson and state Rep. Daniel Troy, D-Willowick, both urged their colleagues to listen to boards of election workers, who wanted more time to set up elections after delayed legislative and congressional redistricting efforts.
“They have said they don’t have a comfort level, they are not confident that they can run a fair and complete election on May the third that is not going to be subject to some irregularities because of the close date that we’re getting there,” Troy said on the House floor.
Hicks-Hudson cited a letter sent by the Association of Election Officials who asked the General Assembly to consider moving the primary, and who said the costs of two primaries would rise above $20 million.
“If you ask (boards of election workers) whether they can pull off two primaries, they will diplomatically say they would prefer not to do so,” Hicks-Hudson said.
Troy emphasized what many Democrats, redistricting groups independent of the General Assembly and even the Secretary of State has hinted at during different parts of the redistricting process: it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a primary on May 3.
“I think it’s just non-sensical to say we can still go ahead with a May 3rd primary in this state involving all of our elections, including legislative districts on the state and the federal level,” Troy said.
The amendment moving the primary date was rejected with a vote of 57-34 without any Republican comments on the measure.
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