COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A plan to overhaul how the state draws its legislative districts won overwhelming approval Thursday in the Ohio House after a bipartisan deal was struck to try to give more balance to the contentious political process.
The state alters legislative and congressional district lines every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified by the U.S. Census Bureau, a process called redistricting. Both political parties have acknowledged flaws in Ohio’s system in which state lawmakers draw U.S. House districts and a state Apportionment Board creates legislative maps.
Republicans, who control all the statewide offices and Legislature, have dominated the line-drawing process in recent years.
Legislative negotiators have been working to find a fairer way of drawing House and Senate boundaries before the end of the session this month.
On Thursday, the House passed a redistricting agreement on an 80-4 vote. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Under the proposal from state Reps. Matt Huffman and Vernon Sykes, the legislative lines would be drawn by a seven-member commission made up of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and four legislative appointees. Two minority-party votes would be needed to adopt the boundaries.
“When the majority had the pen, there were abuses,” said Huffman, a Lima Republican. “What this process does is provide a series of disincentives to the majority to do that.”
Lacking minority-party support for the maps, the majority could draw them. But they would need to adhere to strict geographic rules and other criteria that would make it tougher to create districts that favor one party. These boundaries would be in place for four years, not a decade. During that time, voters could elect different statewide officers to the panel.
House Democrats praised the proposal as an improvement, saying it would allow for more competition and transparency.
Sykes, an Akron Democrat, said each side compromised. “We have now for the first time some enforceable criteria that courts and judges can use to evaluate plans, to make sure that they meet and that they are in fact fair in determining who will represent the people of the state of Ohio.”
Rep. Ron Hood, an Ashville Republican, opposed the measure. He told his colleagues it could create a system in which districts are reconfigured with greater frequency and political spite. “The abuse by the majority to the minority becomes even greater.”
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who has pushed for redistricting changes, said the requirements for approving the lines should be revised.
“With a commission that includes four legislative appointees, this proposal would grant the legislature a new and exclusive constitutional right to draw their own maps without any outside check and balance on this power,” he said.
He suggested a five-member supermajority vote be required to pass a map or a requirement that one of the four votes come from a statewide official on the panel.
Should the proposal pass the General Assembly, voters would have the final say on whether it should be the state’s new process.
Meanwhile, the Republican leader of the state Senate delayed a formal vote Thursday on his redistricting plan to allow further discussion on the issue with the House and Democratic caucuses. Senate President Keith Faber told reporters he still expects a Senate vote on redistricting next week.
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