On Monday night, the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved new Ohio legislature maps 4-3. The maps passed along party lines, with the four Republicans, including Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, voting to approve them. Since none of the Democrats on the Commission, nor Republican State Auditor Keith Faber, voted for the maps, the plans will only last four years.
These maps represent the Ohio Redistricting Commission’s fourth attempt at passing plans for reconfiguring Ohio’s State House and State Senate districts. The Ohio Supreme Court requires that the new maps reflect the partisan split of Ohioans’ statewide voting preferences. According to the Columbus Dispatch, over the last decade, Ohioans voted in favor of Republican candidates 54% of the time on average and Democrats 46% of the time.
The Commission made its third try late last month, when they proposed changes to the proportional distribution of Ohio legislative districts. Those maps were approved by the Commission on Feb. 24, but rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court on March 16.
In its decision, the Court threw out the third-round maps and mandated that the Commission meet to draft an “entirely new General Assembly-district plan that conforms with the Ohio Constitution.” The Court had also rejected the Commission’s original and second-round plans, which were proposed late last year and gave Republicans a 57-42 advantage in the State House and a 20-13 advantage in the State Senate, and deemed them unconstitutional. In its March 16 decision, the Court also ruled that the new maps should be drafted in a public setting to increase “transparency and public trust.”
To comply with the Court’s recommendation that the maps be drafted in a public setting, the Commission hired independent mapmakers from the University of Florida and the National Demographics Corporation to redraw the map. On March 24, a livestream began broadcasting the mapmakers as they worked on the new plans.
However, by the March 28 deadline, the independent mapmakers had not produced a final map for consideration. In its place, Cupp and Huffman proposed slightly altered versions of their rejected third-round maps. These maps seem to meet the proportional representation standard by giving Republicans a 54-45 advantage in the State House and a 18-15 advantage in the State Senate, but their passage roused the ire of state Democrats.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, State Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-28) referenced that the maps had been made outside of the public’s eye, referencing the livestream, and argued that the Commission’s Republicans deliberately decided to pass the maps without any transparency or regard for the constitutionality of their plans.
“We made a historic move towards transparency, but Republicans hijack the process,” Sykes tweeted. “This ridiculous diversion is insulting to voters and comes at considerable expense to Ohio taxpayers,” he continued.
However, according to Cupp and Huffman, approving the redesigned third-round maps was the only way to meet the 11:59 p.m. deadline. According to Cleveland.com, Huffman referred to the modified maps as a “failsafe.”
Following the move, Sykes and Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-24) issued a joint statement on March 29 in which they claim that the Republican maps are unconstitutional and that the majority of the Commissioners passed the maps in an attempt to subvert the bipartisan and transparent redistricting process mandated by the Ohio Supreme Court.
“The Republican maps fail to comply with the Constitution and Court requirement that maps must reflect the statewide preferences of Ohio voters,” the statement read. “Republican commissioners chose their own partisan power over the Ohio voters they have a duty to represent,” Russo wrote in the joint statement. “It is abundantly clear that Republicans lack the political will, not the ability, to adopt constitutional maps.”
Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of Kenyon’s Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) Nancy Powers said that it was unsurprising to see the Commission’s partisan officials attempting to maintain a majority by slanting the gerrymanders in their favor. Even so, Powers stressed the negative effects that this type of partisan gerrymandering has on the democratic process.
“This whole debacle involves two serious problems for the quality of our democracy,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “One is representation of voters’ preferences. The other is horizontal accountability. … The court has tried to hold the redistricting commission to account for following the constitution and the commission has seemed to test the court’s resolve, rather than to comply.”
Due to the maps’ delayed approval, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that the original primary date of May 3 would need to be changed. The primary will take place sometime between May 24 and Aug. 2.