Ohio Redistricting Commission reconvenes with looming court-ordered deadline

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Republican and Democratic members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission disagreed over how to go about drawing a new set of House and Senate district maps.

The commission has until May 6 to adopt new maps, a deadline ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court in their latest ruling.

Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) called for the commission to bring back their hired mapmakers, who are independent of either party’s caucus, to review and finish the work they started in March. These were maps that were drafted but not adopted by the commission.

But that motion by Sykes set off a separate debate over whether the commission should even consider adopting a new set of maps.

Advocates chant “fair maps now” in a House committee room after the Ohio Redistricting Commission adjourns without making plans for new state legislative district maps.
Advocates chant “fair maps now” in a House committee room after the Ohio Redistricting Commission adjourns without making plans for new state legislative district maps. [Daniel Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]

Deadlines, primaries, and emergency legislation

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said it would be nearly impossible for the state to hold a second primary election for state legislative races in August if the commission adopted a new set of maps. He cited specific election deadlines that needed to be met from now until August 2.

Instead, LaRose said local boards of elections could work with what’s known as Map 3 which was adopted by Republican commissioners in February and struck down as unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court in March.

If Ohio does not have new maps in place by May 28, a federal court will implement Map 3.

Map 3 created 54 Republican and 45 Democratic House seats along with 18 Republican and 15 Democratic Senate seats. However, the supreme court invalidated the maps for unduly favoring the GOP because a disproportionate amount of Democratic seats were toss-up districts.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) argued that the commission’s main priority should be to pass new, constitutional maps.

“We need to do all that we can to meet those requirements, to do right by the voters of Ohio. Because, frankly, any election conducted on maps that have been thrown out by our state supreme court as unconstitutional, that’s not a fair election. That’s not a legitimate election,” said Russo to a round of applause from the crowd in the committee room.

Frustration began to stir among the advocates who attended the commission meeting. They periodically scoffed at comments made by Republican commissioners and applauded points made by Democratic members.

LaRose said, if they were to adopt a new set of maps, the legislature would need to pass emergency legislation to adjust the election administration deadlines.

Missing from the commission meeting were two leaders who have been main players in the mapmaking process; House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima). The two legislative leaders removed themselves from the commission and appointed two other Republican lawmakers in their place.

Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters noted that Cupp and Huffman’s absence was convenient when the issue of emergency legislative action was brought up.

Will there be mapmaking?

Given the May 6 deadline, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said there was not enough time to bring back the “independent” mapmakers who were hired for the fourth round of mapmaking.

Since the beginning of the commission’s work, the legislative caucuses have had staff and consultants draft proposed maps. DeWine said those staff members should get together and find ways to revise Map 3 in a way that complies with the supreme court’s ruling.

“We have people here, both parties who are here, who can work on maps. You know, I don’t think there’s any choice other than to tell them to go work on maps and try to take the third map and try to improve that map,” said DeWine.

Auditor Keith Faber, a Republican, circulated a proposed set of House and Senate district maps prior to the commission meeting. Faber had hoped his drafts would generate some feedback and possibly lead to a compromise among the members.

But there was no discussion over his proposal before the commission adjourned.

The commission did not put any plans in place for how, or even if, they’ll draw new maps.

After adjourning, the commission set a new meeting for Thursday, May 5 at 4:45 p.m.

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