Ohio Redistricting Commission selects GOP working map, sets public hearings
COLUMBUS, Ohio — SEPTEMBER 20: The Ohio Redistricting Commission meeting, September 20, 2023, in the Lobby Hearing Room at the James A. Rhodes Office Tower in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
The Republican members of Ohio’s redistricting commission set aside their bickering long enough to introduce a new legislative map Wednesday. Despite objections from Democrats on the panel, Republicans adopted their plan as the commission’s working document. The maps’ partisan breakdowns are 62-37 GOP-to-Democratic in the Ohio House and 23-10 in the Senate.
The commission briefly weighed a pair of legislative maps proposed Tuesday by House Minority Leader Allison Russo and Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio. Republican members declined to include the proposal as an alternative working draft.
The state constitution requires the commission hold at least three public hearings around Ohio to discuss their proposal. The commission approved the following meeting schedule:
- Friday Sept. 22 at Deer Creek State Park in Mt. Sterling southwest of Columbus
- Monday Sept. 25 at Punderson State Park east of Cleveland
- Tuesday Sept. 26 in the Senate finance hearing room at the Ohio Statehouse
The commission has set each meeting to begin at 10 a.m.
Minority Leader Allison Russo kicked off the opposition before a map even came up for discussion. She criticized the compressed timeline of meetings proposed by Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon.
“This seems like a very accelerated back-to-back timeline for public hearings,” Russo said. I question the ability to have meaningful public input during these meetings in such a compressed timeline.”
She added that holding the third hearing in Columbus is a missed opportunity for other regions of the state. But Secretary Frank LaRose who previously urged the commission to complete its work by Sept. 22, warned against taking more time.
“I set the date of the 22nd, now, that would be my aspiration,” LaRose said. “But with each day that goes beyond that, I would say that the opportunity for problems grows.”
Russo and Antonio sparred with LaRose and McColley later over the idea of approving multiple working documents ahead of the regional meetings. The Democrats argued for multiple proposals. LaRose and McColley, however, insisted the constitution contemplates a singular working map.
The GOP proposal
McColley handled introductions for the Republican proposal. He emphasized that their district lines don’t pair incumbents and reduce city splits to just one. But while McColley walked the commission through a series of inset maps demonstrating the cohesion of cities, he didn’t dive into the proposal’s partisan break down.
Russo seized on that immediately. “Am I missing a page?” she asked, pressing McColley to explain his maps’ partisan makeup.
Constitutional requirements direct mapmakers to aim for a partisan index that reflects voters’ recent preferences at the ballot box. During the previous redistricting process, that broke down to a 54-46 split in favor of Republicans.
The Republican maps proposal exceeds that proportion significantly.
According to McColley, the Senate proposal includes 23 seats where Republicans hold an advantage, and 10 where Democrats have an edge. For the House, Republicans have a majority in 62 seats to Democrat’s 37. That translates to a GOP share of more than 69% in the Senate and more than 62% in the House.
Importantly, McColley defined advantage as more than 50% of the historic vote share. Russo pressed him again to explain how many seats would be considered toss-ups — where the majority advantage is two percentage points or less.
McColley explained for the Senate, three Republican seats and two Democratic seats qualify. In the House, three Republican seats and eight Democratic seats are toss ups.
“Even if we include the tossup seats in the House,” Russo argued, “62 Republicans, 37 Democrats does not meet the proportionality requirements.”
What is the right proportion?
Auditor Keith Faber, who is serving as Republicans’ co-chair of the committee, chimed into suggest the previous partisan proportions are out of date.
“My understanding of the constitutional provision is that you look at the last 10 years of elections,” Faber said. “And that means the proportionality has changed substantially in the last few years — over the prior two years. And so I think we need to keep that in mind when we look at proportionality requirements.”
That change would favor Republicans, because elections in 2012, where Democrats did well, fall out of the calculation, while last year’s midterms, where Republicans cleaned up, get added in.
McColley jumped in quickly to agree. He argued the amendment carries several references to the possibility of the commission drawing multiple maps within a single decade.
“And it still explicitly states ‘during the last 10 years,’” McColley quoted. “And so, in that respect, I would argue that it’s unambiguously clear that it is the last 10 years and not a 10 year look back from before the 2022 election.”
Russo, however, wasn’t having it. She argued the Republican maps are too generous to the GOP even after shifting the timeline.
“We can argue about what the 10 year look back is, but if you’re going to include 2022 data, it is 56-43,” Russo insisted. “This map does not achieve that.”
But the problem with that newer the frame of reference goes even deeper. Although it’s relatively straightforward to look at election results and determine an average statewide partisan preference, figuring out the partisan leanings of an individual hypothetical district is much harder.
To get data that granular, the commission needs not just the overall election results, but how those results mapped on to the state. Without it, drafters can’t determine the partisanship of their districts, and by extension, whether or not their map actually achieves that new topline proportion.
Speaking after the hearing, Russo explained that in the past, researchers at Ohio University have provided that data to the commission. She said they simply don’t have it yet for 2022.
Faber insisted the data is available, and quipped “Mike DeWine won with 60% of the vote.” But while he argued the picture has changed, he acknowledged he doesn’t yet have a solid number.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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