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Government/Politics

Republican Senate President Defends Statehouse District Maps Critics Blast As Gerrymandered And Unfair

Huffman press conference June 2021.JPG
Statehouse News Bureau
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Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) speaks to reporters at a press conference in June 2021.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission approved the maps last night on a party-line vote of 5-2.

There’s anger and threats of court action after the late-night, last minute approval of new district maps for the Ohio House and Senate that analysts say are gerrymandered toward the GOP.

But the Republican leader who submitted the maps is defending his work.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said the approved maps are constitutional. And with a deadline of September 15 looming and no apparent hope for a bipartisan vote - even with a delay - something had to be done.

“A decision had to be made and somebody has to do the work to get to the decision. The map that was adopted by the Commission by a majority vote was the only map presented to the Commission that was constitutional. And the only map that I know that was even prepared by anybody that was constitutional," Huffman said.

Two national analyses have said the maps are likely to result in Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate.

But Huffman told reporters the maps are not gerrymandered, and that Ohioans who voted overwhelmingly to change the process in 2015 will "make their own decisions".

"And if they don't like what this process is, obviously, they can go to the ballot and try to change the process," Huffman said.

Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) said he voted "no" because the maps failed to accomplish the goal of fair districts. Both he and House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes needed to vote for any maps if they are to stay in place for ten years - a goal of most of those involved in the process.

But Huffman suggested Democrats may have blocked a bipartisan ten year map in the hopes of different results in four years.

“It's possible that the calculus on the other side is ‘rather than take this map for ten years, we think we have a good shot of winning races and the terms of what we're going to offer, which we know are unacceptable to the majority party, and we can rely on what's going to happen," Huffman said.

A statement from Huffman after the vote on the constitutionality of the maps said Republicans could award themselves 81% of seats in the Statehouse based on the last ten years of statewide voting.

The statement says in part: "The Commission considered statewide state and federal partisan general election results during the last ten years. There were sixteen such contests. When considering the results of each of those elections, the Commission determined that Republican candidates won thirteen out of sixteen of those elections resulting in a statewide proportion of voters favoring statewide Republican candidates of 81% and a statewide proportion of voters favoring statewide Democratic candidates of 19%. When considering the number of votes cast in each of those elections for Republican and Democratic candidates, the statewide proportion of voters favoring statewide Republican candidates is 55% and the statewide proportion of voters favoring statewide Democratic candidates is 45%. Thus, the statewide proportion of voters favoring statewide Republican candidates is between 55% and 81% and the statewide proportion of voters favoring statewide Democratic candidates is between 19% and 45%."

But Huffman said these statement didn't mean the GOP could give itself 81% of the seats.

"We're not going to put a formula in that says you must draw this many seats or this many seats. That, in fact, is the definition of gerrymandering, by demanding formulas in certain numbers of seats," Huffman said.

Huffman said there are other factors involved in winning elections besides how districts are drawn. And though he said the maps aren't drawn to favor one party or the other, he said he believes this proposal "draws fewer seats for the Republicans in the House and the Senate than the map that was passed in 2011, which ended up in 65, or I think at one point, 66 state reps and 25 senators."

Since the current Statehouse maps were created in 2011, there have never been fewer than 59 Republicans in the House and 23 Republicans in the Senate.

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