GOP moving quickly to get redistricting in front of Ohio voters

For the past few months, a committee has met to review, discuss and plan to change how the congressional district maps are drawn

Voters cast their ballot at the athletic wing of Orange High School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Moreland Hills, Ohio. (WCMH)
Courtesy: WCMH

COLUMBUS (WKBN) – Drawing the lines that determine who belongs to which congressional district is a contentious topic for thousands of Ohioans.

Where the boundaries are placed could make the difference between having competitive districts and some that are handed to one party or another.

The League of Women Voters has been working in conjunction with other groups to come up with a plan to draw the district maps and avoid decades of gerrymandering tactics.

They have already gathered 192,000 signatures they say are verifiable. They’re confident they will get the total number needed to get their plan on the general election ballot this November.

But some legislators want to get their own version of a plan onto the primary election ballot this spring.

According to a Republican insider and member of the House of Representatives, this effort to get the GOP plan onto the primary ballot is intentionally being done to undermine the League of Women Voters’ efforts.

For the past few months, a four-member committee comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats have met to review, discuss and plan to change how the congressional district maps are drawn.

Wednesday, State Senator Matt Huffman — one of the members of that committee — gave a presentation to his colleagues. He did not go into great detail about the specifics of what will be in the resolution but he did outline several broader strokes that will be part of it.

PDF: Huffman’s presentation

Huffman claims they are drawing inspiration from and following the style of Issue 1, the ballot measure that passed in 2015 with overwhelming support and set guidelines for how state legislative districts could be drawn.

However, the two Democrats on the committee with Huffman say this plan comes nowhere close to accomplishing what Issue 1 set in stone.

State Senator Vernon Sykes and State Representative Jack Cera refused to support what Huffman put forward Wednesday. Cera went so far as to say it will likely do more harm than good.

Sykes says the plan Huffman is proposing does nothing to eliminate or limit gerrymandering in the way the maps are drawn and that their mapmakers can create maps using Huffman’s rules that consistently skew future districts 12 to 3. The common assumption is Ohio will lose one congressional district after the next census.

The Democrats aren’t thrilled about the speed at which Huffman is trying to get the resolution passed. They say they would be happy to work with him on an accelerated timetable if it was being done in bipartisan fashion. Again, Cera railed against the process, saying it was anything but.

Instead, Huffman insisted that in order to get the resolution in front of voters in time for the May primary elections, it would have to pass by February 7. Because that’s just weeks away, Republicans are expected to move quickly.

Meanwhile, Democrats are asking, “What’s the rush?”

State Senator Michael Skindell pointed out that more people turn out for general elections than primary elections. On top of that, few Independent voters show up for primary elections because there is seldom a reason to drive them to the polls since they cannot vote for either major party candidates in the primaries.

By running the resolution during the primary, it is effectively placed before the smallest number of typical voters — many of whom are tied directly to a political party, which, according to Jason Aubry’s source in the House, is exactly the plan.

Huffman argues that primary voters are the most engaged voters since they typically vote in every election. Therefore, he says, it’s a perfectly fine election to gauge the public’s enthusiasm for the measure.

He also says that delaying the public vote until the general election runs the risk that lawmakers won’t get around to passing the resolution this summer.

In order for the resolution to make it onto any ballot, it needs to pass the general assembly by a 3/5 majority. Right now, that requires 60 votes and there are 64 Republicans and 2 vacant seats waiting to be filled by Republicans.

So once again, the GOP does not need the Democrats to get this done.

Finally, if Huffman’s plan does go into effect, it would require 1/3 of the minority party to support whatever map is drawn.

Currently 1/3 of the minority party is comprised of African American legislators and, according to Senator Sykes, the group has been approached with deals in the past to help get GOP agendas passed. Sykes says it is distasteful that that they would be used as a way to divide the minority party in this way.


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