Ohio voters can expect to get hosed again by gerrymandering in upcoming redistricting charade
The Oho Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with article with which it originally appears.)
As Ohio gears up for another round of Statehouse redistricting, Republican politicians’ gerrymandering games never really ended — they were just intentionally paused to run out the clock on a full, fair, transparent, and good faith process.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has called for the Ohio Redistricting Commission to reconvene on Wednesday, Sept. 13. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose says a deadline of Sept. 22 should be the goal for the commission to adopt maps.
After more than 16 months of inaction since the commission last met on May 5, 2022, that leaves a nine-day window from the commission’s first meeting on new Ohio House and Ohio Senate maps until LaRose’s self-imposed deadline.
Is nine days enough time for new district maps to be drawn, for the public to review and analyze them and provide feedback, for the commission to consider that feedback, negotiate adjustments, and come to bipartisan agreement for long-term maps? Clearly not.
Is it enough time for Republican politicians to draw up another round of short-term, gerrymandered, partisan maps and force them through the commission without bipartisan support, to be rubber-stamped in a split decision by Ohio’s new right-wing majority on the Ohio Supreme Court? For sure.
According to LaRose, county boards of elections must have legal descriptions and shape file data for new maps provided by the General Assembly to upload into their systems by Nov. 6. In order to allow two weeks for that to be done, as well as time for potential litigation, LaRose says Oct. 23 is “the latest possible date for the commission to enact a new district plan.” He suggests Sept. 22 as their self-imposed deadline to leave buffer room.
Candidates in 2024 must gather signatures and file petitions for candidacy in partisan primaries by Dec. 20. If they need to move into a new district, they have to do so 30 days before that date.
Did this rushed, truncated timeline have to be this way? Absolutely not. The Ohio Redistricting Commission has had all year to get the ball rolling, to involve the public and provide transparency, to accomplish what more than 71% of voters supported in 2015 when they reformed Statehouse redistricting to try to stop gerrymandering.
But these power-hungry politicians have no intention to stop gerrymandering.
Now that they can rest easy that a partisan Ohio Supreme Court will approve whatever gerrymandered maps they put forward, their most effective manipulative strategy is to run out the clock and rush the process at the end with as little public scrutiny as possible. So that’s exactly what they’re doing.
The only real question now is not whether Ohio voters get fair maps — we won’t — it’s how much they bother to change Ohio’s current unconstitutionally gerrymandered Statehouse district maps at all.
While they certainly won’t be changing the maps to make them more fair, balanced, competitive, or representative of the Ohio electorate, what they might do is use the new round of mapmaking to try to punish certain lawmakers and to help others.
Mapmaking in the hands of politicians is an anvil to hold over lawmakers’ heads, to compel them to go along to get along.
For instance, in the last round of gerrymandering, Richland County Republican state Sen. Mark Romanchuk was drawn out of his district after he fought to repeal the House Bill 6 law at the heart of the state’s $1.3 billion utility bailout and bribery scandal.
So if anything changes with the maps, it’s in the interpersonal power politics arena where I expect Ohio Republicans to be jostling, especially with the GOP divide in the Ohio House that we’ve seen since January.
Lima Republican Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman is term-limited in his chamber, and he’s said he wants to run for the Ohio House in 2024 and “maybe, someday” try to be speaker. Current Speaker Jason Stephens, a Kitts Hill Republican, won the role after a group of 22 Ohio House Republicans voted with 32 Democrats to elect him to the position. Those 22 Republican lawmakers were then censured by the Ohio Republican Party for voting for a Republican speaker.
So both Huffman and Stephens will have a lot riding on how the Ohio House map turns out — who gets rewarded, who gets punished, and who ends up with control over another gerrymandered Republican supermajority as speaker in January 2025.
No matter what they do, voters and representative democracy in Ohio will continue to lose.
So, Ohio voters, the best I can tell you is to expect another shameless charade. Expect to get hosed again as Ohio Republican politicians play power politics at the expense of the people.
And as you watch this forthcoming travesty, consider the wisdom in using your own power to kick the politicians out of the redistricting process entirely.
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